By LEE XIE
8:30 a.m.: take an Uber to work. 12 p.m.: order lunch from Seamless. 5 p.m.: order groceries from Instacart. 9 p.m.: sign for a wine delivery from Minibar. Millennials like Jess Spence rattle through lists of their daily apps with a familiarity of routine. Spence, in her early twenties, uses apps to help manage her hectic life. As a working student at New York University’s Stern School of Business, she turns to apps such as Uber, Seamless and Tapingo to help save time by using “on-demand” services in New York City.
Emily Jones’ whole life revolves around tech innovation. Having interned at SpaceX and now Tesla, she has integrated Uber into her daily commute from downtown San Francisco to Palo Alto. Jones speaks hurriedly and moves even faster, speed walking and bumping into something or someone here and there. “I think you can argue that humanity has been able to progress the most based on how fast humans can move and Uber allows faster transportation for those who have access to it,” Jones said.
Millennials have jumped on lifestyle apps to streamline their daily routines from their iPhones. Apps allow them to receive the closest thing to instant gratification without exiting the door. But while ordering everything from lunch to a bottle of wine with a tap of the finger may seem like a godsend, experts say millennials’ over-reliance on convenience apps may have negative side effects, including impatience and taking mental shortcuts.
Why do millennials love convenience apps so much? For one, these apps act as huge timesavers for a generation that is stressed out like never before, much due to workload and the feeling that there are never enough hours in the day. Millennials report the highest levels of overall stress in America: 5.5 on a 10-point scale, and more than one-quarter say their overall stress has increased in the past year, according to “Stress in America,” an American Psychological Association study from 2015. College students like Spence attribute their stress to the never-ending demands of a school-work life. “This year, especially this semester, I feel busy all the time. I’m handling three different group projects, work and school, among other things,” Spence said, who uses Uber to squeeze out some extra minutes—otherwise spent walking—in her day.
Spence’s other go-to apps include Seamless and Tapingo for food delivery. Seamless is a location-based app that offers food delivery or pickup from local restaurants. Spence uses Seamless on campus, where she doesn’t want to disturb her workflow to search for food. For millennials, time is money and they are willing to pay up to save it. “Having my food delivered so I can stay focused is worth the tip I pay for delivery,” Spence said.
Millennials want lots of choices and they want immediate results. At least that’s what companies like Tapingo, a food pickup and delivery app for college students, have gleaned through their exposure to the demographic. Tapingo allows students to order meals from campus dining halls and local restaurants in-app, then skip the line to pick up their food. Students can also opt for delivery. “Whether it’s the long lines between classes or late-night study sessions, students need a solution that meets their needs,” said Leanne Reis, public relations manager at Tapingo. On the NYU campus, Tapingo’s stickers and fliers can be found in dining locations across campus, especially at student hub Starbucks in Goddard Hall, where the line is often deemed “ridiculous.” Spence uses Tapingo not only to save time, but also so “I don’t have to deal with the attitude of the people who work there,” Spence said.
Tapingo also appeals to a college crowd due to its price: it’s free to use, with no additional or hidden fees, unlike other food delivery apps that often include a surcharge that varies based on distance and price. With students picking up their orders between classes, Tapingo also eliminates the middleman who is not always reliable, as Spence has found. “Once when I was using Seamless, the delivery estimate was posted at 20-30 minutes and the restaurant didn’t deliver my food until an hour after I ordered it,” Spence said. Spence also worries about the unhealthy lifestyle that food delivery apps can foster. Using Tapingo led to a coffee habit, and having Seamless at her fingertips resulted in some late-night binges on “comfort food.” “I believe that if you cook a meal yourself, even if you make a chocolate cake, it’s healthier than ordering or eating out. I only order when I’m in a rush and it’s my only option,” Spence said.
Going hand in hand with this “I need it now” attitude is the rise of car-hailing app Uber, consistently listed as one of millennials’ favorite and most-used apps. For customers that use the app everyday, Uber is all about efficiency. Jones is an avid user of the app’s “pool”, or ride-sharing, function. “Uber Pool allows me to travel anywhere in San Francisco for around five dollars because I’m ride sharing with other passengers. You can’t get that pricing on a taxi,” Jones said. However, Uber, while without service fees, uses a “surge pricing” model that can spiral out of control. “Surge pricing” can hike up fares by a factor of more than 2x when drivers are in demand. With money being a heavy concern of many millennials, developing a dependency on apps like Uber may lead to mounting costs that suddenly tally on a monthly credit card bill. “Usually when it’s surge I refresh the app until the price drops, but I have accepted surge pricing before. It’s an annoying part of the app that you forget about, so it does annoy me when I have to pay extra,” Jones said.
Our expectation for lightning-fast service and flawless execution has some experts worried. Adjectives like “impatient” and “spoiled” are becoming increasingly attached to the millennial generation. “I don’t know if it’s just who I am as a person, but I’m impatient because I find time to be very important. Even when I’m using Uber, if the driver takes a long route to get to me, I get frustrated,” Spence said. While many millennials claim to be “just an impatient person,” researchers have found connections between technology dependency and the development of an impatient attitude. “Negative effects [of technology] include a need for instant gratification, loss of patience,” according to a Pew Research Study on teens, technology, and human potential released in 2012.
Ramesh K. Sitaraman, a computer science professor at UMass Amherst, has also conducted research on the intersection of technology and impatience. His 2012 study, “Patience of Online Video Users,” examined how long users were willing to wait for a video to load. The results found that “viewers started to abandon [the video] if the startup delay exceeded two seconds,” Sitaraman said, establishing the “two-second rule,” a testament to our impatient society. The study also found that users with better connectivity abandoned sooner. “For users, time is relative. Their patience is influenced by expectations of speed,” Sitaraman said. In other words, as we receive faster service, we become less patient. Saving time makes us want to save more time.
Perhaps more alarmingly, research published in 2015 from the University of Waterloo in Canada suggests that patients who are plugged in and not prone to analytical thinking may rely on their smartphones for day-to-day decision-making, “offloading thinking to technology.” “In the era of constant internet connectivity and convenience apps, the relation between energy output and outcome is an interesting object of study. Decades of research has revealed that people only expend as much energy in thinking as they need to and we frequently rely on mental shortcuts and heuristics,” said Nathaniel Barr, creativity and creative thinking professor and primary author of the study.
However, despite experts’ warnings, app usage among millennials is soaring. 2014 data from Nielsen shows that U.S. Android and iPhone users age 18 and over spend 65 percent more time each month using total apps than they did just two years ago. Smartphone owners ages 25-44 use the greatest number of total apps per month (29 apps, on average), but 18-24 year-olds spend the most time on them (37 hours, 6 minutes). College students and millennials new to the job market fall in both categories. While social still dominates the usage landscape, apps that fall into the “productivity & tools” and “commerce & shopping” categories are not far behind.
These statistics may also have to do with the fact that on-demand apps are cropping up by the week. CVS Pharmacy, America’s second largest pharmacy chain, recently announced that it will be rolling out curbside delivery to customers via the CVS mobile app. In the startup space, convenience apps covering everything from laundry delivery to Uber alternatives are picking up steam. Consumers may be eagerly downloading these apps, but experts are warning to proceed with caution. “Research into the psychological correlations and consequences of this relation between human and device is relatively new, but incredibly important. As we become more intertwined with the internet, it is vital that we stop and think about what we are doing,” Barr said.