Are we becoming addicted to phone apps?

Are we becoming addicted to phone apps?

I think I’m an app addict. I don’t want to waste time using Google to find the website I need – whether that be to purchase something, read an article or find out information; I want an app to give me what I need directly, right now. 

Am I alone in being addicted to phone apps? I did a little survey amongst family and friends and asked how many apps they had on their phone, and how many of those they installed themselves. The highest number of apps a respondent said they had was 152, of which 86 they added themselves (as opposed to system apps that come with the phone). 

Here’s my figures: 147 apps installed, 83 added by me. I’ve no idea whether this is excessive or not compared to the average, but I’ve been wondering what it says about me, and society as a whole, that we have so many apps on our phones. 

A phone screen with multiple apps.

Why do we use apps?

Apps are all about convenience – they save us time and energy. In this chaotic world, apps appeal to our basic instincts because the time and energy we save by using an app can be diverted elsewhere, to something more important, i.e. survival in basic instinct terms.  

We also love apps because they give us a personalised experience, which appeals to our naturally self-centred nature. Getting this tailored experience can make us feel more in control of life and help reduce our sense of information overload, providing content which is more manageable for us to consume. 

I’ve had a good think about why I use apps and the different types of apps I have on my phone.

First, news apps. Information is like kryptonite to me; I’m an avid doomscroller, and love poring through news headlines and gathering knowledge like a squirrel hoarding nuts. So I think for me those apps are definitely about control – I feel that, by ensuring I’ve stored all the latest information in my brain, I’m somehow in control of it all and won’t be caught out in any way. 

News apps on phone, which can be addictive.

Then there’s shopping apps; these are purely about convenience and getting that personalised experience, such as item recommendations, in a quick and highly navigable way. 

Of course there’s also social media apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube for me), which primarily alleviate boredom, and communication apps, such as WhatsApp, Messenger and Slack.

The main draw of these is that you can have multiple people engaging in a conversation at one time. I can remember a time when you’d have to send a SMS to multiple different people and collate responses, and then inform everyone separately about the outcome of those responses. Who’s got time for that these days?

I’ve also got: task management apps; email apps; storage apps; banking apps; apps for searching for freelance projects and jobs; events apps; school apps; an app for booking a doctor’s appointment (in pre-Covid days) and requesting repeat medication; health and fitness apps; weather apps; takeaway apps; apps for managing and paying bills; apps for saving books I’d like to read and recipes; parking payment apps etc etc. The list goes on. 

App addiction and mental health

Social media apps on a phone can be addictive.

We’ve all seen the documentaries about our addiction as a society to smart phones and social media. But I’ve not seen much discussed around the issue of app addiction, and I’m not sure if this is recognised as an actual condition as such. We know that mindless scrolling through social media isn’t good for our mental health, but we continue to do it nonetheless.

I would argue that our persistent turning to apps when we need to make a purchase or find out some information is another potential red flag when it comes to our mental health. By always looking for the easiest and quickest option when we want to perform any kind of action on our phones, are we conditioning ourselves for a lifetime of perpetual impatience? 

From a personal perspective, I know that, if I try to find and download an app for something and there isn’t one, I get a bit frustrated. I might think: “Why isn’t there an app for this when there’s an app for everything else? How stupid!”, and that store or news outlet might lose my custom or attention. 

Have you noticed how apps are proliferating? There’s more and more available each day and, in this frenetic society where companies are competing for consumers’ attention constantly, those who don’t eventually engage with the idea of creating an app for their business may fall by the wayside; we just won’t notice them any more as, if they don’t have an app, it’s likely we won’t bother with them. 

Facebook app on phone.

Is this what we want for society though? In the same way we’ve witnessed the death of the high street, will websites fade away eventually as apps dominate the digital landscape? Will we become completely governed by our desire for quick and easy, so much so that anything that isn’t those two things falls off a cliff? Is becoming addicted to phone apps inevitable?

The future of our app-addicted society

I recently read a worrying study which suggested that the way apps are designed means that, on a visual level, our eyes and brains are becoming numb to the bright or contrasting elements on phone screens because there’s so much of it on display – this is becoming normality. I think this could be a good metaphor for society, for how we’re constantly distracted by noise and colour, until we become used to it and search again for the next noisiest or brightest thing.

This seems like a treadmill we’ll struggle to get off, or even know we might want to. More people are developing their own apps, people without technical knowledge or expertise, which is also a worrying trend in my mind. When it becomes normal to both constantly consume and produce apps, even for lay people, will there be space for anything else?

I’ve now gone through my phone and deleted any apps I don’t use very much, just keeping the ones I deem essential to the smooth running of my life and work. But I know that no app is really essential, at least until websites disappear that is. 

App addiction can affect our mental health.

I’m going to try and remember to think twice before downloading an app I don’t really need; yes, it doesn’t cost me anything generally other than battery power (which is always in short supply – maybe something to do with all the apps?), but what is it costing in terms of my mental health? 

Is it really giving me peace of mind or is it actually creating more anxiety, in the sense that I’ll then be more inclined to search for another app to perform a different function in the future, and possibly feel anxious when I can’t find one?

Perhaps that sounds a bit pathetic, but I would just say this: take a note of how you feel when you’re looking for an app and when you do or don’t find it, and ask yourself what that says about you and what’s good for your mental health.