Phoning it in: I tried letting apps run my life

I'm bad at apps. I didn't get a smartphone until 2015, and didn't realise you could move the icons around until sometime later. I don't know how to do the thing where you scan a Snapchat QR code. My email stopped working over a year ago and I have yet to fix it.

When I got the chance to let apps run my life as an experiment, I was excited. Maybe this would be the push I needed to become a tech-savvy Millennial.

For three days, I would use apps to dictate my every movement. They'd tell me what to think, when to exercise and even how much water to drink.

It sounded promising, like delegating boring tasks to a small electric intern. Could my phone really organise my existence? There was only one way to find out.

Day One

8am - I am both lazy and a touch stupider than normal in the mornings, so the default iPhone alarm doesn't really work on me.

Alarmy, in contrast, is brutally effective. I wake up bathed in sweat to an ear-splitting screech that gets louder the longer you leave it. I then have to solve three equations with only NCEA Level 1 Maths and 15 seconds of consciousness to my name.

I’m certainly awake. I don't know that I'll ever sleep again.

11am - Clementine is a mindfulness app with a focus on positive mantras. I turn on the maximum number of notifications and receive inspirational quotes from people like Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton throughout the day.

It also offers meditation sessions for a range of situations. I listen to a confidence-boosting track called 'Start The Day Right', although seeing as it's almost midday its effect may be compromised.

The meditation tracks are voiced by a calm, curiously accent-less woman - the eponymous Clementine, I assume.

3pm - Plant Nanny is an app that reminds you to drink water through emotional blackmail. Every time you take in a glass, you "feed" a virtual pot plant the same amount of water. Neglect to hydrate yourself sufficiently, and congratulations, you've killed an innocent plant.

I already drink more water than anyone I know, so it wasn't hugely beneficial. I'm actually drinking less than usual, as the alerts telling me my plant is thirsty come less frequently than my desire to chug a glass of cool, crystal-clear Adam's ale.

Pictured: The author pouring her twelfth glass of water for the day.
Pictured: The author pouring her twelfth glass of water for the day. Photo credit: Newshub.

7pm – I use My Fitness Pal to enter every bite of food and mouthful of liquid I've ingested all day. I'm sad to see that a bagel alone has almost 300 calories – and that's without any toppings.

Calorie counting gets a bad rap, with its potential to invoke the sort of behaviour that could get obsessive, but it also seems a fair way to track nutrients and maintain weight.

After I enter my dinner, a stern warning pops up telling me I've exceeded my carbohydrate goal for the day. On second thought, this is a bad app promoting harmful ideas about food and I'll pay no more attention to it.

Mantras repeated: 12

Glasses of water drunk: 9

Calories consumed: 1,483


Day Two

3am – "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not making decisions" – Catherine Cook. A piece of wisdom to be sure, but was it worth waking me up for this, Clementine?

9am - Clue represents the pinnacle of digital innovation: a period tracking app.To its enormous credit, Clue doesn't have an obnoxious pink interface like many women's apps. Instead it visualises your menstrual cycle in an understated style that turns periods into a scheduled event rather than an unpredictable annoyance.

Each day you enter how you feel, how much you slept, and how heavy or painful your period is. The app doubles as a fertility tracker which will identify your prime baby-making time each month. If you tell the app you're feeling 'low energy' or 'sensitive', Clue will reassure you that 43 percent of users feel the same around this time, which is a cheering sisterly thought.

11am – I use an app called as a shopping list on my supermarket trip. It's too fiddly to be user-friendly (at least for the digitally challenged) and if you forget to check things off you will receive judgmental notifications reminding you what a disorganised waste of space you are.

1:30pm - Who needs a Fitbit when you've got Pacer, the step-counting miracle app? Being inept, I can’t figure out how to synchronise my steps with MyFitnessPal so I have to manually enter details of my walk (29 minutes, moderate pace) to get those calories back.

My walk to work burns a satisfying 100 calories, or one piece of white bread. I ought to get extra credit for making the journey in four-inch heels.

Pictured: The author struggling to complete a simple app-based task.
Pictured: The author struggling to complete a simple app-based task. Photo credit: Newshub.

8pm – I've started a lot of diaries in my life, but never stuck with them for long. Thankfully, 'micro diary' app Daylio doesn’t require more from you than identifying your mood (ranging from 'rad' to 'awful') and selecting a couple of activities you did that day.

'Walking' and 'cooking' have their own icons, but not 'binge-watching Jessica Jones' for some reason. I have to customise a few of my own to fully live my truth.

11:30pm – The constant notifications throughout the day really spike my cortisol levels, leaving me breathless and distracted by day’s end. I listen to Clementine’s longest meditation track, a 25-minute epic called 'Deep Sleep', in which I am repeatedly reassured that "sleep is safe to experience".

Despite some cynical thoughts, by the end I'm barely conscious and enjoy one of the deepest sleeps I've had in a long time. I never should have doubted you, Clementine.

Steps taken: 5,057

Calories burned: 155

Hours slept: 8h 17m


Day Three

9am - I'm not a horoscope person, but I get the appeal: a quick scan in the morning paper to give you some astrological direction for the day.

The Daily Horoscope gets every single aspect of this experience wrong. For one, it doesn't appear to offer a daily push alert, leaving me to navigate through the screeds of apps my phone now holds. The one time I'd actually like a notification, and they don't even offer them.

After selecting my star sign (Scorpio, obviously), which I had to redo every time as the app doesn't retain information, I'm treated to a 300-word essay inviting me to participate in some thought visualisation.

"Imagine for a moment that you are about to go on a brief trip to somewhere that isn't very far away," the horoscope begins portentously. This is all the information I need to know that it just wasn't written in the stars for me and Daily Horoscope. I delete the app without a second thought, which is a total Scorpio move.

Pictured: The world's worst app, Daily Horoscope.
Pictured: The world's worst app, Daily Horoscope. Photo credit: Newshub.

12pm – If there's one thing My Fitness Pal has made me hyper-aware of, it’s my poor spatial awareness. I estimate I've eaten 70g of penne pasta – the kitchen scales reveal it was more like 150g.

4pm – "Got seven minutes?" asks Seven, an exercise app. Unfortunately I'm at work and while I'm committed to this experiment, doing sit-ups in the office is a bridge too far.

7pm - Jump out of my skin upon receiving my latest Clementine mantra ("Be gentle with yourself, you're doing the best you can.") I usually keep my phone on silent at work, but I've left the volume on for the experiment. Is there anything less relaxing than getting an alert every few minutes reminding you to relax?

9pm – 240 calories in a humble packet of M&Ms! Is there no justice in the world?

10:30pm – I'm home and it's time for the workout I deferred earlier. Seven features a cartoon instructor who guides you through a brief but intense routine including wall sits, crunches and squats.

Designed for the busy professional who doesn't have time for the gym, its default seven-minute workout is great for working up a sweat in the time it takes to boil an egg if you're into multi-tasking. I personally am not, but I stumble my way through it to the distracting sounds of a cheering virtual crowd. I regret the M&Ms.

Minutes spent exercising: 7, of increasing sweatiness

Useful horoscopes read: 0

Calories consumed: 1,502


These three days have been a mixed bag.

I received about 30 notifications a day, and it's not for the faint of heart – every time my phone buzzes my heart rate increases. I thought I'd feel more relaxed by not having to remember to do things, but instead I'm now overthinking everything.

I haven't been converted to the multi-app lifestyle, but nor has this experience turned me off them altogether. As with most things in life, moderation seems to be the key to happiness – or should I say, appiness.

As recent revelations have scarily demonstrated, the more apps you use, the more data you sign away to Facebook and other shadowy tech companies.

You might be fine with that, but the less Mark Zuckerberg knows about me, the easier I'll sleep at night - even without a Clementine meditation.