With an app for this and an app for that, iPhones and other smartphones are now capable of all kinds of amazing feats. But while our technology has developed by leaps and bounds, human nature — specifically our tendency to become obsessed with shiny new toys — hasn’t changed a whit.
In other words, we’ve officially become “app-noxious.”
“Three of my colleagues purchased the iPhone calorie counter app and are constantly talking about what they ate and how many calories everything is,” says Renate Raymond, a 37-year-old arts administrator from Seattle. “And now they’ve started circulating around the lunchroom analyzing the calories that everyone else is eating. You’ll be eating a burrito and they’ll sneak up and punch in ‘burrito’ and tell you that you’re eating 550 calories. They’re driving everybody nuts.”
Yes, thanks to a wave of popular new apps, our phones are now capable of passing gas, passing judgment, and annoying our friends, family and colleagues in a much more efficient, high-tech manner.
They’ve also granted us the power to instantly correct — and/or alienate — anyone around us in a matter of seconds because of Web access at our fingertips.
“I was at a restaurant with friends and said something about Ralph Macchio being in a movie and pretty soon somebody’s got IMDb (the Internet Movie Database Web site) out on their phone and they’re looking it up,” says Jonathan Acuff, a 33-year-old copywriter from Alpharetta, Ga. “You can’t casually say, ‘I kind of like that guy in that movie’ anymore unless you’re sure he was in it. Now they look it up and somebody else looks it up and they’re like, ‘You’re wrong.’ ”
Patricia Wallace, author of “The Psychology of the Internet,” says smartphones, with their computer-like features, open up endless possibilities for human beings. Aside from basic communication, smartphones offer us a chance to unwind, keep our mind active and learn all kinds of new tricks, from Chinese to checkers.
But along with all that power comes the temptation to wield it — usually at whomever happens to come within six feet of you and your beloved mobile.
“It’s knowledge one-upmanship,” says Wallace. “If you can actually click onto that piece of information that applies directly to the moment — to point out the author of that book or what scandal he was involved in — it’s tempting to do it. You have access to a lot more arcane knowledge. It’s not as good as if it just came out of your own brain, but it does mean that you’re very connected. You can look things up and you can be right.”
Albert Ko, a 24-year-old Web entrepreneur from Los Angeles, says he hasn’t just experienced one-upmanship, he’s seen a good bit of one-appmanship, too. There are more than 35,000 apps, or applications, for the iPhone. Research In Motion, which makes BlackBerrys, just started offering apps through its online “App World” in April.
“My friends with iPhones are constantly showing off what our BlackBerrys can’t do,” he says. “You think you’re cool because you have the latest BlackBerry, but they’re like, ‘Well, can yours make fart noises? Can it make ocarina noises? Can it play poker?’ I personally don’t think it’s that cool, but it’s a way for them to say, ‘Your phone can’t do this and we can.’ ”
Not just iPhone users
While iPhone users may well indeed be the star-bellied Sneetches of the 21st century, they’re certainly not alone when it comes to app-noxious behavior.
“My husband and I bought Google (T-Mobile) G1 phones in December and there are tons of free apps you can download,” says Jessica Singleton, a 29-year-old freelance writer from Seattle. “He downloaded this one app, "DeskBell," which makes noises, including a gong, a cowbell and a ‘ding’ like a service bell.”
Unfortunately, her husband began using the app whenever she said something he didn’t like.
“There have been a few times when I'll say ‘Can you take out the trash?’ and I get gonged,” says Singleton, who recently got revenge by downloading “That’s Not Funny,” another noise-making app.
“He got home and I asked him how his day was. When he mentioned he’d lost a bet with a friend, I played the ‘Wa-wa-wa-waaaah’ noise, the one you hear on old sitcoms sometimes.”
Goofy or irritating?
Smartphones are emitting lots of goofy noises these days, thanks to apps like “Pull My Finger,” “iPooted,” “The Pee Factory” and “PrudeBox,” the latter serving up a grand total of 16 “high-quality, rude and crude sounds.”
You can also download programs that allow you to fake-smoke (“iSmoke”), pretend to drink a mug of ice cold beer (“iBeer”) and check to see whether your friends are really Cylons (“Cylon Detector,” sold by NBC Universal. Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)
Not surprisingly, the incredible array of programs has turned a few people into app-addicts.
“My girlfriend has like eight (screen) pages of apps at this point,” says Clark Manning, a 34-year-old architect from Brooklyn who lists "Pocket Guitar," as well as a mustache app and apps for yoga, Spanish, a light saber and a decibel level meter among her many applications.
“Her iPhone is the last thing that touches her hand before bed and it’s the first thing there in the morning. When the app store first opened, I didn’t talk to her for two weeks without the iPhone between us.”
Manning says he thinks part of the allure is that as a graphic designer, his girlfriend is “enamored with all things Mac.” But he’s starting to think of her downloads as a bit, well, app-hazard.
“She’s got an app that estimates the size of something based on a credit card,” he says. (It’s called “No Ruler.”) “She’s like, ‘This is so cool, it’s like eight credit cards long.’ I’m like, why don’t you just get a tape measure and measure it? It’s this fascination with the technology without thinking, ‘Is this really helping me?’ ”
Perhaps it's a phase
Author Wallace eats, drinks and breathes technology as part of her job at Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth in Baltimore, where she’s the senior director of information technology She says overdosing on apps and high-tech tools is a phase for most people.
“These devices do useful things and when we first get them, we explore every option,” she says. “We’ll have it doing calorie calculation and stargazing and even the silly adolescent stuff. But eventually we narrow it down. We focus on the apps that really make sense to us and improve our productivity and that we truly enjoy.”
While many applications lead to better productivity — or, at the very least, help you figure out the name of that song that’s been driving you crazy (“Shazam”) — Washington, D.C. dermatologist Hema Sundaram says she’s seen patients get carried away with too much Web access and apps at their disposal.
“Some patients will come in and have read stuff off their iPhones and are convinced they need a particular medication or they have a particular condition,” she says. “When they come in with a preconceived notion, it can be tough to talk them out of it. This is where we can go astray with these iPhone apps, when the patient starts getting more anxious, when they feel it supersedes everything else: ‘I read it on my app so it must be true.’ ”
For the most part, though, our apps — and app-noxious habits — are relatively harmless. Although they may turn out to be slightly contagious.
“My mother’s boyfriend came over to my place and he’s like, ‘Hmm, looks like your picture frame is a little off-balance there’ and then whips out the level app on his iPhone and levels it up for me,” says Brandon Loebsack, a 25-year-old fisherman from Wenatchee, Wash. “I’m like, ‘Man, I want one. I want to be an app-hole, too.’ ”