Yeah, there’s an app for that….


Ok, I’d be the first to admit that my sense of irony may be too highly developed.

But I’m pretty sure that this time, it’s not me.

The legendary, foundational bluesman Howling Wolf, when speaking of his equally legendary and humble 1951 Pontiac station wagon, once said, “I own my car. It don’t own me.”

Wolf’s manifold wisdom could find applications for a number of different types of possessions today – possessions that may not be entirely clear on just who belong to who.

I have noticed a trend in the Smart Phone software development lately. It isn’t isolated, and it isn’t some sort of fluke one-off.

One of the fastest growing categories of smartphone applications are applications that are designed to manage how much time we are spending using our smartphone applications.

You may elect to read that again if you believe your brain just encountered some sort of Dr. Whovian temporal discontinuity.

That’s right. Apps that control overuse of apps.

I told you my overactive sense of irony was not responsible.

The first such application that caught my eye was in the Washington Post’s tech section:

This application, Moment, monitors how much time you are spending using your phone. It can set limits and ‘remind’ you if you exceed the limits you previously set.

Thinking that something like Moment had to be a fluke, I started doing a few searches, and discovered that Moment was far from alone.

In this group of Software Applications one can find applications to shut down or silence input from other applications. There are applications that block all social media updates. There are applications that time one’s ability to focus and then grant you a rest break after a certain number of ‘focused’ minutes.


All of which begs a question – a question which will have far greater impact if you try to imagine all six-foot-three-275-pounds of Howling Wolf looking down at you to ask it:  “Do you own your phone or does your phone own you?”

Right now, the answer, for most people, is that the phone is in charge.

The mobile phone, when it was first deployed, was supposed to be the be-all-and-end-all of business productivity tools. The pitch was that it could allow you to be reached by your customers no matter where you were, so that you were always able to conduct more business without the limitations imposed by having to be located in one’s office.

Instead, what we now have is such a ‘compelling user experience’ that a substantial number of smart phone users display the same behavioral dynamics as street junkies – compulsive inability to do anything but keep going back for another little fix. The smartphone has become the lever marked “Cheese” in the rat cage of the biggest psychology experiment ever conducted on human beings.

Today, I enjoyed my lunch outside in a large public plaza – replete with fountains, waterfalls and aquatic plants – on an eleven out of ten point scale beautiful summer day in Reston, Virginia. During that half hour, I was the only person I saw – whether seated or walking – that wasn’t completely zoned in to the screen of a smartphone or tablet.

A well-engineered smartphone is the consummate business tool. The Nokia Lumia I carry allows me to work with my corporate e-mail system, and review and comment on design, proposal and financial documents that have been generated in Microsoft’s Office software suite applications.

What most users have allowed their smartphones to become, however, is the consummate source of interruptions, distractions, and a host of stimuli that are all completely antithetical to focus and to productivity.

Your phone is supposed to work for you. If your phone or its installed software aren’t helping you work, then you are the one that needs to do a little downsizing – to make some changes in your personal organization. If you haven’t got the discipline to recognize the difference between a tool and a time wasting toy, another app is not going to help.