In earlier posts I’ve looked at various “happiness apps”. I must admit that I have a very, very skeptical attitude toward this concept, not least because of the known psychological damage done by doing anything on the screen.
At the same time, I pay close attention to what Sensei Cat Johnson has to say. So her recent post to Sharable caught my eye: “15 Apps to Boost Your Happiness” 
(Hmm. This list was originally published in 2015. But this is still relevant today, and there should be a few more years of actual use by now, no? It’s been a while since I looked at this stuff anyway, so let’s see what the state of play is in 2019.)
The array or apps on offer is familiar. A quick skim shows the usual suspects.
Several of the apps are variations of positive thinking, making affirmative statements, and, of course, “guided meditation”. I know that the basic techniques work, at least some of the time for some people. Similarly, there is a “gratitude journal” and a “pay it forward” charity app. These, too, are practices that make people happy, at least some people, some of the time. (I would recommend combining the gratitude journal with the charity app: take time to say why you are grateful/proud/happy, and why this action expresses your good feelings.)
One of the apps basically reminds you to drink enough water. Yes, you need to drink water. No, you don’t need your phone to tell you to do that. Your body knows. And in any case, just drink water instead of caffeine or cola.
Several of the apps focus on monitoring your mood in some form. In a sense, this is cutting to the heart of the matter—trying to make yourself happier. The thing is, these apps are basically self-reports of your mood, which is both disruptive of daily life (“stop what you are doing and tell me how happy you are, from 1 to 10”) and questionably accurate. I’m also concerned that the flashy screen interfaces imply both more validity and more accuracy than probably warranted.
More alarming, two of the apps claim to improve sleep, and one uses a sensor to do biofeedback on your heartbeat. I suspect that there is a large dose of placebo in these apps, but to the degree that they do anything, it is scary. Monkeying around with your physiology is not safe or smart.
For all these apps, there is a fundamental question, “Does delivering it on a mobile device work?” As far as I know, the science is not strong on this point.
If I had to guess, I would say that there are counter balanced positives and negatives, especially for “digital natives” who live lives entangled with their mobiles. The more you get your information and entertainment form your mobile, the more effective it might be as a channel for self-guidance. On the other hand, the same device is delivering the very stress and distraction you are fighting, so who knows how well these apps can compete on the enemies home ground.
Does taking over your phone—blocking out all the stress and distraction—make them helpful? Or does being on the mobile associate them strongly with the stress and distraction of that interface? I dunno.
“Turn it off” might work even better.
One of the apps is very much more interesting. Couple (originally “Pair”) is is an app for couples. The idea to create a social network of size two, with many of the features of conventional social media: shared photos and messages, constant connection, etc. Much of what it has are redundant with other social media platforms, except the distribution is tightly controlled. I.e., people are already doing this stuff with Facebook, Instagram, Skype, etc..
I certainly see the use case for long distance relationships, or even for really busy people who are effectively separated a lot of the time. And there is a certain security in an app that, in principle, is a private digital duprass . It’s designed so it is not easy to share the intimate stuff with the whole internet, or to sneak around with someone else.
I’m not sold on many of the features, such as shared “to do” lists, and “find nearby restaurants”. Obviously, these can be done with other apps, and maybe would be better. I mean, if you want to find a restaurant, you probably want to look at public ratings and information anyway.
I really don’t get what their “map” is all about. It seems to be showing the geographical location of all the users (e.g., with a line linking them across the ocean). Why is this interesting information? I mean, the entire point, the only point of this app is that there is only one person you care about.
There is one semi-cool feature: Thumbkiss. This interface sets up a real time link so when both of you presses your thumb to the screen, there is a special haptic “touch” (and glowing light). This is a particularly vivid way to signify that you are thinking of each other right now. (Some people do this kind of thing with Skype, touching the screens together.)
Thinking about this app, I have to wonder who will like this the most. T
here are many digital natives who seem to need their whole life documents on the Internet. It didn’t happen if there aren’t pix. This app has the same technology, but the performance is to a very limited audience. Showing your partner what you are having for dinner isn’t quite the same action as showing all your friends. So do you post the same thing twice, or sometimes post only to your sweetie and sometimes to your friends, or what?
In a similar vein, it seems clear that certain kinds of online behavior—competing for attention, showing off, etc.,–would be a bad idea and probably just not work in a just -the -two-of-us network. Sure, you want to give and get attention from each other, but not necessarily through the “look what I bought today”, or “look who I’m having coffee with” mode.
Honestly, I really don’t know what kind of things people will really use it for, and if they won’t just use other platforms.
Why would people not use this app? As already noted, there is little here that you can’t get elsewhere.
The just-us-two is pretty much the lower limit of a social network, so who knows if it is even worth the overhead. And, by the way, there are interesting wrinkles such as the prohibition on more than two (no threesomes, not even for children or parents). Most people have family and friends, and their sweetie is ultimately part of that overall social world. So, does Couple simple age out as the relationship matures?
In the FAQ I found that there is a special process for breaking up! There has to be a process, because you can only join as a couple, so uncoupling means no more social network. Sigh. I sure wouldn’t want to have to do customer service for that part.
I’ll also note that you really shouldn’t use this when you are in the same room. To the degree that people are using the “togetherness” features on their phone while they are together, that’s bad news for the relationship. Put. The. Phone. Down. Look at her. Look at him. Talk. Listen. Be there now, with and for each other.
Finally, I’m completely unable to guess what the business model might be. Just how do they make money off this product? Most social media sells its customers to advertisers. If Couples is doing that, then Ick! Double Ick! Triple Ick!
If not, then how do they make money? And just how much money could they make anyway?
Technology I’ve got. But I’ll never understand Internet business models.
- Cat Johnson (2015) 15 Apps to Boost Your Happiness. Sahrable, https://www.shareable.net/blog/15-apps-to-boost-your-happiness