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Why Buy a Paper Planner in the Digital Age? Part 5: Your Phone is a 5-Inch Donut-Shoving Machine

Scott Brown

This post is part of an ongoing series entitled Why Buy a Paper Planner in the Digital Age.

Check out our previous entries:

There's an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer is sent to Hell for a day (the Halloween episodes are full of sensational, unrealistic plots even for Simpsons standards). Upon arriving in Hell, Homer is sent to the "Ironic Punishment Division," where stacks and stacks of donuts surround him. He's accompanied by a blue demon who, proclaims that Homer will now be forced to eat "all the donuts in the world!", a fittingly ironic punishment for Homer's donut gluttony. The demon assumes this will drive Homer mad, but as a machine kicks on and starts shoving donuts into Homer's mouth two at a time, we see him instead gleefully keeping pace with the machine, actually asking for more after he'd eaten all the donuts.

We all want to feel productive. Time management app developers want you to feel productive as well -- while you're using their app. This pattern is carried out in every corner of the app market. Health apps want you to feel healthy while you're using their app. Apps that touch up your selfies hope that their features will gain you "likes" which will motivate you to take more selfies -- which will also of course need touching up. The hope is that you will see these positive feelings (health, positive community feedback) as intrinsically linked to the app, and since you crave these feelings you will spend considerable time using the app (bringing in ad revenue for them), pay to "unlock" additional features so that you can attain an even higher level of this positive experience, and/or pledge full allegiance to the app by purchasing that subscription plan.

Anyone who uses apps regularly should be familiar with these revenue-generating strategies, and there's nothing inherently wrong with them if the user is getting adequate value for the cost of their time and money, and they don't lose sight of reality by using them. It's harmless (and increasingly common) to touch up your photos now and then, but overdoing it can choke out any appreciation that you have for your true appearance, and cause those close to you (who know what you really look like) to wonder why you need this type of validation. Health apps are great for keeping certain health goals, but obviously not to the point that you skip meetings to walk 1000 steps or resort to "tricking" the app by putting your phone on the dryer and turning it on (Admittedly I don't know exactly what negative effects would come from this deception, but it seems like an indicator that the original goal of better health has now mutated into a need to keep a streak at any cost).

And this brings me to time management apps. Just like any app, they make money by commanding your time and attention, the same commodties which you need to actually put those plans into action and reach your goals. In direct competition with actually completing those to-dos, these apps hope to keep you "feeling productive" as long as possible in order to keep your eyes and thumbs fully engaged with the app. Achievement "badges." Notification of how many days in a row you've used the app. Your very own avatar looking back at you approvingly. Satisfying explosion sounds when you check off an item. Snappy animation whenever you add, remove, or rearrange calendar entries. All of these add to the feeling that you are knocking planning out of the park.

For any app, overuse can be detrimental to your actual goals. For time-management apps, the business model is uniquely at odds with your actual reason for using them, leaving you less time to actually see tasks through. It's a punishment well-suited for the "Ironic Punishment Division."

 

This post is part of an ongoing series entitled Why Buy a Paper Planner in the Digital Age. Read part 6 here!


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