iOS should help us stay mindful

Having used a Kindle Fire for testing purposes for while now, I’ve realised a few things. The most important is that I am very happy my platforms of everyday choice is iOS/macOS. But one or two things in Fire OS did catch my fancy.

The set-up with a home-screen page that keeps track of your latest books, music, videos etc isn’t bad. It only seems to work with Amazons services, but still. Sure, you can sort of get this on iOS, but the Kindle way is faster. Not necessarily elegant, but faster.

But the function I really had fun exploring was the parental controls. I’m sure many a parent would love to see them built right in to iOS too, but I want to take it in another direction.

I am very interested in mindfulness, and I happen to agree with the research that is starting to warn us we may be a little to addicted to our phones. And I even notice how people around me are starting to get a little uncomfortable with how much, and often, they use their phones.

Now, sometimes the phone is just a distraction. Put it away on the date, at the dinner table or, as per one conversation I had the other day, when you interact with your baby (or pet). Focus on the others, be there, enjoy the moment. And sure, sometimes you may miss an Instagram moment, but d’you know what? That’s really okay!

Yet, there is no denying our phones are great tools for all sorts of things throughout the day. And let’s be honest, most of us couldn’t be away from it for that long during a normal day anyway. It’s our communication, notes, documents, entertainment, coach, meditation teacher, camera, you name it. Most of us need some or all of those on any given day, at least the way our lives look right now.

Apple, with the original Macintosh, sometimes talked about a ‘bicycle for the mind’, based around the notion that humans weren’t even close to being particularly efficient at moving about comparatively, unless you added the bike, where we outperform all other animals in efficiency. The Macintosh was always intended to help humans be better and more efficient without having to learn engineering level computing. And I think this is probably even more true for the iPhone.

But these days we’ve reached a point where more and more indicators point to our technology dependance possibly even be harmful to our brains and our minds. So why not enlist iOS to be of service in protecting us instead? The Apple Watch already does some of this. The breathing widget, the taps to get you to stand, things like that. It’s not perfect, it still steals attention, but if it takes you attention off of mindlessly liking stuff and back to the now, it just has to be better, right?

I would like to see a system-wide settings pane, where you can tell iOS what kind of feedback it should give you, and how often (obviously it should be opt-in). Or why not even use machine learning to automate some of it? It might be things such as when you’ve sat in the same place a really long time and only used one (lets face it) social media app, iOS could suggest going for a walk, doing a stretch, meditate or even that you use another app. ‘Hey, you’ve been on Facebook for two hours, why not finish this book you’re reading in iBooks?’

I genuinely think the fine folks at Apple could come up with a way to let iOS help us get healthier. The push for getting people to move show that Apple is really getting good at it. But I fear we are forgetting the mind. The way it is now, our phones risk becoming what not only made us dumber in the end, but also what started chipping away at our humanity. No one wants that.