What Apps Do That Books Can’t


by Lindsey Witmer Collins with Kayla Floyd

When was the last time you read a really compelling book about changing some aspect of your life - let’s say your diet and nutrition - and then you actually did the work to implement whatever change that book was touting? 

You pulled out the highlighters and the sticky notes and you plugged all the pertinent information into your phone and your planner and all the other places you’d need to put it for it to be helpful. You lugged all 300 pages of that book to the grocery store to make sure everything in your cart was a-okay, and then you heaved it out onto the table at lunch with your friends to help you select the right menu option. 

I’m guessing for most of you, never.

Because while I love books for some things, they simply fall short when it comes to helping us successfully implement change in our lives. And what apps do that books can’t is give us information when we need it, where we need it in a way that’s convenient, relevant and actionable. 

Think about that guy standing at the kiosk in the middle of the mall handing out samples of eye cream. It’s broad daylight, your hands are full of bags, and your evening skincare regimen is the farthest thing from your mind. His presence feels like a nuisance, and if you’re like most people, you avert eye contact and try to hurry past. 

But fast forward a few hours. You’re staying with a friend, and you’re about to get ready for bed. She hands you the same packet of eye cream and says, “You’ve got to try this!” Suddenly you’re all ears. You take it into the bathroom, and within moments you’re basking in the joy of how it feels gliding across your skin.

That’s because context is key.

When we read informational, self-help-type books, we’re relying on our busy, overstuffed brains to digest large quantities of information that isn’t necessarily relevant in that moment. We’re hoping we can open a mental file cabinet later on and pull open the right drawer when we actually need the information.

But with well-designed apps, we’re able to divide that same content into appropriately-placed contexts to give you the right information at the right time. We integrate the information into a more user-friendly interface and then trickle that content into your life in the moments you want it and in a quantity that’s easier to digest. 

We outsource mental work to our phones constantly; they are an extension of our brains. Where our brain won’t remember that meeting tomorrow, our phone will. And while our brain might not be the perfect filing cabinet for that life-changing information, our phones might be, if we build the right tool to dole it out — in the right way, at the right time.

The MyFLO app is a great example of this. Alisa Vitti had written a smart, compelling book about the power of cycle-syncing to maximize health and wellness during all four phases of a woman’s monthly cycle, and yet she knew she could take it one step further to help women make all this valuable information work in their lives.

With the MyFLO app, users receive a snapshot of information that corresponds to the day of their cycle they’re currently in. They are shown what foods, exercises and even social settings would best suit their body’s hormonal signature for that day, and they’re given it in a voice that feels like the loving girlfriend at the sleepover instead of the shady guy in the mall. 

The best apps address each of these components: 

  1. The context for when the information would be most useful, 

  2. The voice and design most supportive to delivering the content effectively, and

  3. How to intuit when the user will need and want the content. 

When we work through each of these smartly and succinctly, we are able to take the same information from that 300-page book and cut and paste it into a format and design that more closely resembles the way we learn and behave in real life. We get to put the highlighters and the sticky notes back in the drawer and simply move through our day. 

Books will always have their place, and I love devouring a good, insightful volume about something I’m passionate about. But when it comes to making lasting change in our lives, apps simply deliver in ways books can’t.