Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech
I am currently reading Something Wonderful, the story of the collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. My favorite of their many marvelous musicals is The Sound of Music, the story of a postulant seeking to find her life’s calling in Austria on the eve of World War II. I was just reading how the song My Favorite Things came to be and was reminded that it had been a few years since I wrote about my favorite apps. Reviewing that article and looking at my phone, I was surprised to find I have abandoned most of my apps from 2012. Let’s take a look at the ones I now rely on.
Travel has become one of my favorite things. I relish opportunities to observe other cultures and to meet and share stories with those of different backgrounds. Toward this end, TripAdvisor has become my all around go to app while on the road. It’s a handy tool to explore new places and learn what others have found appealing about them.
Each city reference includes a list of favorite experiences, along with ratings for places to eat and stay. Thanks to TripAdvisor, I learned about the wonderful Richard H. Driehaus Museum in Chicago and took the opportunity to visit and observe the opulence of the art and architecture of the late 19th century.
This summer, while on a trip to California, TripAdvisor was endlessly helpful in learning where to find good parking in the densely populated area where we traveled. This need led me to Spot Hero, an app that allows you to reserve a parking space months in advance. It’s great for relieving the stress that often accompanies trying to locate parking in a community with which you are unfamiliar.
AirBnB has also served us well while on the road. It facilitates finding unique lodging from individuals instead of typical hotels. AirBnB has enabled us to meet some wonderful hosts, and when traveling with additional family members, it has allowed us to have a whole house or apartment to ourselves rather than being jammed into traditional adjoining hotel rooms.
And, if the space where we’re staying is too quiet, I use the White Noise app to provide a comforting fan sound.
For news and information, the set of apps I use has changed completely over the last seven years. On the Apple platform I use the built-in app News. It allows me to choose specific topics of interest and collects articles about them from a variety of sources, both familiar and new. For complex topical issues, I often find it helpful to explore them from the multiple perspectives of different media providers. I also make use of National Public Radio's NPR app. Prior to using this app, I often wished I could pause or rewind the news on the radio when I missed something that was said, or if I left work late and wanted to know about breaking news. The NPR app solves both problems with its “Playlist” feature. When I leave work I tap “On Demand,” then tap “All Things Considered” and browse through the afternoon’s articles. Those of interest are added to my playlist and, before hitting the road, I hit "play." Then from the car controls I can easily pause or restart a story. And in the app—at least for now—there is no fundraising!
Another app I’m trying in the information category is Nextdoor. It is a social media/information app for folks who live nearby. If you are looking for a bookshelf and a neighbor is trying to get rid of one, Nextdoor can facilitate that connection. Or if there is someone riding around the neighborhood on a motorized unicycle selling pest treatments (true story), it can keep you informed about that as well.
I also make frequent use of a variety of financial apps. Paying bills, checking credit card balances, renewing auto registration, reviewing credit reports, or splitting meal costs—these and similar activities have moved from checks, landline telephones, and desktop computers applications to access via my mobile phone.
Another thing that has changed over recent years is in electronic restaurant access. Chipotle, Panera, and countless other restaurants now facilitate ordering ahead, and then walking in and picking it up. So when my wife is working late at school, I pull up a restaurant’s app, tap through my order and then drive. When I arrive, I walk in, pick up the bag with my name on it (no line), then share a meal with Sherry while I relive my childhood by sitting in a tiny chair at a 4th grade table. The trust involved in this process restores my faith in humanity!
I also have some favorite security apps. LastPass keeps my passwords and credit card and insurance information handy so wherever I am I have access to them. I also use Authy, Microsoft Authenticator, and Google to provide Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) to gain access to my most important accounts. For many sites you no longer have to type a number, just tap “Yes” when it asks if this is you. If you have not yet setup MFA for your email, social media, and finance-related accounts, please schedule a little time to do this. It is the strongest/easiest thing you can do to secure your accounts from bad guys who want to access them.
Finally, my new favorite app is Calm. Its whole purpose is to help you unwind. Calm provides stories if you have trouble falling asleep, breathing exercises to help you relax, and a daily meditation with different topics like calming anxiety, reducing stress, expressing gratitude, etc. I find it consistently helpful.
Technology itself can, at times, be stressful and some apps, equipment, and websites can create more grief than they are worth. I suggest you talk to friends about apps that work for them and compare notes. You might also explore a few of the apps I’ve mentioned here. There are as many apps as there are people, so locating ones that work for your situation may take time, but with persistence and exploration you can locate apps that will make life just a little more efficient, calm, safe, and joyous.
Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.