Relying on the digital age to figure out your problems

The title of this post may suggest something more broad, but don’t be fooled.  I recently read an article in the Times  by Olivia Gagan in the Modern Love section – available only online, probably for good reason. She tells the, sad, tale of a breakup from someone she’d been involved with for 7 years.  And it’s a thorough tale.  But it’s the purpose of her piece that’s so fascinating: during therapy, after the breakup, her psychiatrist recommended an app to help deal with the situation.  This app (Positivity with Andrew Johnson) is an audible hypnotic tool used to lessen the stress in one’s life.  It invites the user to practice more sound sleeping habits which translate to better overall wellness.  In all sincerity, this didn’t sound like the type of therapy a licensed psychiatrist would recommend, but that’s just my opinion.  To quickly summarize the rest of her story, she downloads the app, follows it during her therapy sessions, eventually meets up with her ex for a talk, and is able to find the strength to walk away on her own terms.


But for me, with the happy ending for Olivia in mind, I began thinking about how technology has seeped into our lives in a very real way.  Over the course of this semester we have addressed many personal issues where online interactions have affected us: bullying on Twitter, online dating, racial equality, and even eating disorders.  But dealing with grief or distress presented a new frontier, at least for me.  The recurring theme that I continue to come back to is that we can not solely rely on digital innovation to better ourselves – especially when dealing with stress.  The piece in the Times presented what I considered to be an excellent example of how to coexist with new (and therapeutic) technologies.  But Olivia’s story highlights how her use of an app worked effectively with therapy sessions.  In short, it was a great supplement to her existing care.


And if there’s one thing that everyone wants it’s to be happy!  Or at the very least, content.  Enter innovators, entrepreneurs, and snake oil salesmen.  Among the various results I found on Google, were lists of apps on places like, Forbes, and the Guardian.  These articles all include apps that help with working out, meditation, and more general goal-getting.  Interestingly the most helpful source I found was an article from Harvard Medical School that outlined a pretty self-evident bit of advice: ask for recommendations.   The essence of Harvard’s research showed that people should be leery of apps that promise to make you better, and that the best way to reach wellness is through seeking help from others.

Our reliance on technology for assisting our personal lives has its ups and downs.  But I am a firm believer in the power of human interaction to really help us when we’re vulnerable.


  1. I agree with your (and Harvard’s) skepticism about apps making people happy. I do think there is a place for apps that can help people change habits, educate, manage time, keep track of goals, etc … and although these won’t make a person happy, they can help bring balance and health, which can help. I’m not surprised that the article’s author was recommended by a psychiatrist to use a positive thinking app. Cognitive psychology, an effective method for treating depression, lends itself to the education and journaling capabilities of an app.

  2. Awesome final post! Your reflection helped hammer home the point that technology is a tool with enormous potential to improve our lives and drive the economy, but it is not a silver bullet for the challenges of life. At the end of the day, humans are the one to drive change, and our relationships are much more important than the platforms that happen to facilitate a tiny part of them. I also share your skepticism about healthcare professionals prescribing “audible hypnotic tools,” but I guess it worked well-enough for the author.

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