Don’t think in apps, use your vast imagination

This is the state of the world today. Wanna do more of something? Is there an app for it? Which one is the best?

That’s backwards. Or, actually too much forwards. Let me explain.

The computer avalanche

We have devised all our technology to help us do more. Wheel, writing, computers,…

The problem of today’s age is that while wheel or pen won’t work by themselves, computers have become more and more autonomous and now create an avalanche of new stuff to bombard us with every second. Networked computers have made the transformation from passive to active.

They started out as an passive medium — you put stuff in, you get stuff out. What’s the nth digit of pi? There you go.

But now millions of people — myself often included — turn on the computer, open a browser, click or type a URL and boom — Facebook! Twitter! Email!

For a few characters of input, we get an infinity of output.

Notifications! Alerts! Exclamation marks!

The passivity of the web is now actively assaulting us. The tool has in some respects become the master. Or is trying to.

And as the functions of all the different devices we used to have were channeled into our computers, the desktops, laptops, and phones have become central to our lives.

So now when we need something, we automatically come to our computers for help because that’s what we’re used to.

But is it the right medium?

That is the question we need to ask ourselves more often.

Recently, I’ve been doing some design work and this struck me: 
A designer doesn’t start drawing pixel-perfect visuals on a computer. Often, the journey starts with a notebook and a pen or a pencil. Offline.

Why?

Because that’s the best medium. It’s not a computer.

The web is full of text, because text is easy to manipulate for computers. Only now other forms of interacting with machines (voice control, images, GIFs,…) are becoming more prominent because technology is catching up.

We have let computers limit our thinking.

For instance, why don’t more people sketch out their ideas? Because it’s more difficult to digitally manipulate images then words. You might need to take photos, adjust them in different programs, convert to different formats,… and as a result of that, we have let our drawing abilities dwindle.

When creating something, we should consider if a computer is the right tool for the job.

Maybe a better medium for expressing your ideas a colorful pencil drawing. Or a better medium for creating a building is cardboard or foam and an office knife. And A better medium for communicating a personal meeting, with body language and faces, rather than an impersonal email.

The app called Imagination

With the immense development of technology, we have let some of our human innate faculties become stunted.

There exists a gap between the digital tools available and our creative abilities. We are able to imagine things no technology can yet fully capture. We can manipulate objects in space in our minds in milliseconds, we can imagine what things would look like if this and if that… We can use our brain and the simplest of tools like writing down basic notes or drawing a few lines to capture the most complex of ideas. Our imagination can supply the details. We should use it more.

Coming back to the beginning, a reddit user asking for productivity apps, if you want to be more productive, don’t look for an app.

The most productive people aren’t so damn good because of any one app. No. It’s because of other things like habits or their environment. The technology is only scratching the surface.

Work backwards to technology

This whole train of thought reminded me of Steve Jobs’ quote about working backwards to technology. He repeatedly stated that you have to start with the idea, and then pick the best technology, not the other way around.

So if you want to express something, work backwards to the medium. 
Ask: what is the best medium for what I want to do?

Is it a computer? Is it pen & paper? Is it cardboard boxes? LEGO? What is it?

Don’t think in apps, think outside the box — the computer box.