Sarconi: The ‘most dangerous’ app could force young people to pay attention

Much has been made over the instant-gratification culture that has developed since the advent of the Internet. Whether it’s Google’s ability to provide lightning fast answers to almost any question or iMessage’s swift communication features, society’s expectations and behaviors have changed due to advancements in technology.

What hasn’t really changed, however, is the way apps and programs work to address society’s changing work habits. Flowstate, a note-taking app that erases what people write if they stop typing, may be the start of that shift.

The app debuted in the iTunes App Store last week and is self-labeled as “the most dangerous app” in its description for a reason. To get started, the user sets a timer ranging from 5 to 180 minutes. Then you start typing away. But the second you stop typing, words start disappear. If you wait seven seconds, it’s gone.

It’s radical, extreme and any other word you want to throw in there, but the reality of it is that these might be exactly the type of apps younger generations need. Our behaviors may have changed so drastically that in order to work efficiently we need an important reason to focus and losing everything you’ve typed seems like a good reason to me.

But Flowstate is less about punishment and more about rhythm, considering the app wants its user to get in a flow when typing. It attempts to get the user to a point where they type without even thinking.

Caleb Slain, co-founder of the app, even described it as “a drug that takes 15 minutes to kick in” as reported by The Verge.

Obviously, this isn’t an app for most documents. I wouldn’t recommend typing a research paper on it or using it to work on your resume. But because it’s geared toward a stream-of-consciousness-type assignment, a reflection paper or a short memo may be a good use for it.

That’s just a guess, though. I can’t honestly say what you should use it for, but the point is that this is one of the first apps that can compensate for our diminishing attention spans.

According to a 2015 study by Microsoft, the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds from 2000 to 2013. In that same study 77 percent of people aged 18 to 24 responded “yes” when asked, “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone,” compared with only 10 percent of participants over the age of 65.

I don’t need a study to tell me my attention span is short when I can barely get through a one-page paper without checking my Facebook page, my email and other various sites multiple times. But this quantifies a number that is only going to decrease as the state of our technology improves.

There is nothing more important in technological advancement than speed. If a company in Silicon Valley has a slow product, it might as well throw it in the trash. It would be essentially worthless because the average consumer has become so accustomed to speedy results that when they don’t get them, they tend to bang on the equipment and magically hope the gears inside the computer will turn faster.

That being said, it’s safe to predict that things will become even more efficient in the coming years. At some point, it seems likely that iPhones will come with Li-Fi, a technology that is approximately 100 times faster than Wi-Fi. And you can bet that Facebook, Twitter and Google are working on speeding up their systems, too.

As a result, the average attention span is likely to drop even further. Hell, one day, it may get cut in half.

So, in a sense, apps like Flowstate are fighting the good fight, even if it’s unintentional. It may not save your words, but that’s the point.

Paul Sarconi is a senior broadcast and digital journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @paulsarconi.


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