I don’t often pay for apps. In fact, swiping through my phone, I can’t find a single one which I actually purchased. Maybe it’s because I’m northern. Maybe that’s a bit politically incorrect. So when I impulsively forked out 79p for Forest about a week ago, I almost surprised myself. I wanted to see if this minimalist utility could help me escape the slippery slope to graduating with the infamous ‘BA in Procrastination’.
Forest is an app which aims to stop you using apps — or at least, it strongly encourages you to stop using apps. The theory, like the design, is incredibly simple. You set the timer, and leave your device with the app open. Then you do some work, and — if you complete it without caving in to the temptations of social media — it rewards you by planting a virtual tree in a virtual field. The more work you do, the larger your forest grows. But if that Facebook notification is just too interesting to ignore, or that Tinder match needs stalking ASAP, and you leave the app, your tree will die.
As a bonus, they’ve made the trees look very sweet — and the dead ones look very sad — so it feels especially evil when you murder them. So far, I’ve been setting it for thirty-minute stints, and it’s definitely succeeded: there are quite a few moments where I’ve wanted to randomly check social media out of boredom, and been told off by the positive messages on the stylish-yet-minimal mint-green display: phrases like “put down your phone” or “hang in there!”.
I haven’t even failed yet, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I don’t want a dead tree ruining my perfect plantations. The app is even running while I write this; unfortunately, that highlights one of its flaws, because I’m meant to be doing university work: as helpful as the app is, it ultimately still relies on your own willpower to some extent, and (as we all know) there are always other ways to procrastinate.
However, when I do sneak on my computer, I’m far more aware that I should be at work, and this guilt eventually sets me back on track. There are a few added extras in Forest, most notably the clearly-displayed statistics, offering a run-down of each day’s successes and failures. If you gather enough points, you can ‘buy’ other varieties of tree for your forest; if you earn even more, a company will plant a real-life tree in a country like India or Zambia — at the time of writing, a total 5746 trees have been planted by app-users. It’s a nice touch, giving physical rewards for hard work. As I learnt from this year’s series of The Apprentice, gamification is a growing field, and the gamification of concentration is a brilliant idea.
In a world where the majority of people are embarrassingly reliant on technology, it’s nice to use this dependency for good. By tapping into a love of cute trees and an appreciation of neatness, Forest really could be the simple saviour of the student. They definitely aren’t barking up the wrong tree with this one.