May 1, 2014

FISCHER | Snapchats and Stress Relief

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While considering several ideas for this column, I was searching around the internet for engaging stories to inspire and color my final column of the academic year. After half-heartedly scrolling through the New York Times website — and considering whether to discuss the redesign and added features it has undergone to keep up with the changing digital landscape of how news is purveyed — I stumbled upon a video clip from comedian Conan O’Brien. The clip, set against a neutral blue background, features five minutes of Conan reviewing several “stress relief” apps for iPhone.

Of course, a simple review is not so simple in the context of late night television, and O’Brien spends the five minutes getting increasingly frustrated with the various stress-inducing “stress relief” apps that he endeavors to review. The apps range in function from allowing O’Brien to throw virtual knives at a picture of his producer (a perpetual object of abuse on the show), listen to the voice of a Scottish man entreating him to be calm, receive a massage from his iPhone and break various virtual flourescent lightbulbs. Each app is less and less satisfying for O’Brien, and his sessions of relief are frequently interrupted by advertisements for “Farm Heroes” and faulty technology. The scene culminates with O’Brien angrily insisting on breaking a real lightbulb, which he accomplishes after several tries.

O’Brien’s hope that there is an app that holds the key to relieving his daily stress applies to a much larger critique that our mobile devices are veritable swiss army knives of functionality. Smartphones are, of course, fantastic for quick communication, keeping track of a day’s events and constantly checking Twitter feeds. But it gets a bit trickier when we rely on smartphones to remove stressors from our lives through the dulcet tones of a Scotsman laid across a calming, ethereal jingle. Giving this sort of power to our smartphones only enable additional dependency on technology to mediate and mollify our daily lives.

An interesting tidbit in popular iPhone app news that surfaced yesterday was the news of Snapchat’s redesign. Snapchat, for those of you who have never received pictures of your friends touting digitally-drawn Harry-Potter-lightning-bolt-shaped scars, allows the sending of pictures that can be viewed for up to 10 seconds and then disappear into the recesses of an unknown computer server. The redesign that was announced yesterday essentially gives users of the app the ability to chat via text and video with their Snapchat friends.

I’m not sure about you, but I just looked at my iPhone, and I have seven apps that I can count that are solely used for communication. I have the native iPhone apps: iMessage and Facetime, apps for group communication: GroupMe and Celly, an app to keep in touch with abroad friends without iPhones: WhatsApp, an app solely for Facebook friends: Facebook Message and, of course, Snapchat. This doesn’t even account for the fact that I have a separate app to make phone calls. It seems a little bit ridiculous that I would need seven different apps for text and video communication, but each one serves a very small portion of the population that another doesn’t. Snapchat’s expansion into the text and real-time video arenas, however, is not needed. I have six other apps for that.

I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man when discussing technology, but I fear that I have come across as one throughout this column. Smartphones are an incredible asset to organization and communication in our daily lives. However, when it becomes impossible to sit down and focus on something for an extended period of time without getting notifications from Celly, GroupMe and iMessage, that becomes an issue for daily productivity. There have been recent times when my phone has vibrated so frequently that I’ve felt legitimately anxious that I would be able to finish anything without being disrupted by technology. Instant connectivity is both a huge positive and a large positive for our modern world. Stress relieving apps, though? That’s just ridiculous.