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The app-driven life: How smartphone apps are changing our lives

Our app-driven life: Smart-phone apps are becoming the north star for millions of Americans who use them to navigate through life –  shopping, playing, reading, dating, learning, and more with their fingertips.

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"Apple wants as much uniformity as possible," says Nathanson, who, as a first-time app developer, loved the simplicity. "This way, [iPhone owners] feel comfortable moving from one app to another. Android does that, too. When you read about best practices for app development, whether it be for Android or Apple or even Windows, they all say the same thing: Your app should not look the same on all three of these devices."

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Soloway, the app-driven MBA student, says she's been tempted to turn in her iPhone for another device. Living in Seattle – Microsoft's backyard – many of her classmates preach the virtues of Windows phones. They are attractive, she admits, but switching seems like a waste of money.

"There's no reason to switch off of Apple because I've already purchased so many apps," she says. While her hundreds of iPhone apps work beautifully on an iPad, those downloads will not carry over to the Android or Windows Phone operating systems. In a way, these apps have locked Soloway into a single ecosystem. She uses apps from many different companies, but they all require the same single device.

"Part of me doesn't like the dependence on the one tool," says Sherry Turkle, author of "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other." "Having my life concentrated on a single technology is very convenient and terrifying."

In this smart-phone age, Americans have become surprisingly casual with their privacy, says Ms. Turkle, an iPhone owner herself. When she grew up in the 1960s, people clung to their privacy – they politicized their privacy. They thought that no one should be able to read their mail – now companies provide free e-mail service in exchange for them being able to skim those in-boxes to serve up advertising. She wistfully remembers people objecting to surveillance programs – now apps such as Foursquare announce online that people have entered certain shops in exchange for discounts on that store's products. After Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination in the late 1980s, Congress passed a law banning the publication of people's video rental history – now countless apps offer to automatically post even minute actions to a person's Facebook timeline.

"My generation – a very political generation, people in their 40s, 50s, 60s – have let their children down because we didn't help them think politically in terms of new technology," says Turkle. "We gave them these [smart phones] and said this is good for you; it will help you connect. And then we turned around and said, 'Oh, this is so shocking: They connect all of the time. Oh, how shocking: They don't care about privacy.' "

Of course, while privacy settings can seem nebulous, people do ultimately choose what to share online and how to broadcast that information. Still, Turkle says this moment of widespread self-surveillance – when people text, photograph, and geo-locate their daily lives – will come to a head with this generation of kids.

"Part of why I'm optimistic is that we don't have any laws for this," she says. "We're operating on rules that came before cellphones. There's a lot of conversation to be had, and I'm most interested in how we get that dialogue started."


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