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Op-Ed

The app to end all apps

Hand-held devices getting in the way of true human interaction? Here the solution.

December 30, 2010|Meghan Daum

The other day I went to the movies and forgot my BlackBerry. This proved disastrous, not because I missed any calls but because during the five or so minutes before the trailers began, I found myself in the terrifying position of having nothing to do. As nearly everyone in the theater soothed themselves with Facebook Mobile or tiny, hand-held rounds of poker, I had no choice but to be alone with my thoughts.

Needless to say these thoughts were a self-loathing duet of "Ugh, why did I forget my BlackBerry?" and "Ugh, why am I so dependent on my BlackBerry?" It was almost as unpleasant as hearing Gwyneth Paltrow sing with Huey Lewis. Even as I write this, I'm getting the shivers.

Here's the part of the column where I'm supposed to say that my New Year's resolution is to make a genuine effort to curb my mobile technology habit. This is also the part where I make some totally obvious pronouncements about how we are so inundated with electronic stimuli that we not only don't know how to be alone with ourselves, we actually fear the very concept.

Once upon a time, people patiently waited for movies to start by nibbling their popcorn and perhaps even (gasp) talking to the person they came with. Once upon a time, we tucked a book or magazine into our bags when we met a friend at a restaurant, so there would be something to do if the friend was late. And once upon a time, when that friend got up to use the restroom, it wasn't mandatory to whip out a smartphone and check your e-mail.

But let's face it, these rusty ships sailed long ago. Books and magazines have been replaced by e-readers and smartphones and iPads that conveniently let you check your e-mail if the reading proves too tedious. Quiet mediation is really only appropriate in yoga, preferably the Nintendo Wii Fit kind. If you're going to ask people to relax, you need software to back it up.

That's why, this New Year's Eve, I am not merely vowing to change my behavior, I am creating an app that enables me to change it. This app will do for users what no other has done before: It will allow them to be unoccupied. It will allow them to use their thumbs not for scrolling or typing but for that classic yet sadly bygone thumb-related pastime known as twiddling.

One of the best things about this app is, as they say, its "elegance." I'm not just talking about its name, Twiddle (fun and minimalist, no?). I'm talking about the fact that its main function is to simply turn your phone off. Not that you couldn't have guessed that. They already make this kind of thing for computers, an Internet-blocking software called Freedom, which is apparently not named after Jonathan Franzen's novel despite the author's much-quoted description of how he bars himself from cyberspace by removing his wireless card and using super glue to plug up his Ethernet cable (the freak).

But my app is better than super glue or the simple on/off button. My app will keep your hand-held whatever deactivated until such time as adequate self-reflection has been achieved.

I won't get into the technical nitty-gritty (hey, I'm an idea person!). What I can tell you, though, is that the self-reflection will be deemed adequate only if the app senses that one of the following criteria has been met:

• User has thought about all the friends who have no doubt posted on her Facebook newsfeed since Twiddle activation and imagined what these friends might be like in person (eye color, sound of voice, possible body odors).

• User has wondered what would happen if instead of texting her best friend, she actually visited her at home — provided Google could tell her where the friend lived.

• User has thought about how many tweets she's missed during Twiddle activation and calculated how many Haitian children could eat for a week if each tweet were worth $5.

You totally want this app! Now, instead of feeling guilty about your hand-held-device addiction, you can feel guilty about the plight of Haitian children. Isn't that better?

So I say not "Happy New Year" but "Happy New You!"

Meanwhile, I'm also developing an app that lets you know if your Facebook friends smell bad. Stay tuned.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

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