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New app ‘Journal’ promotes healthy habits, mental health awareness

Dec. 11, 2023, Apple Inc. released its newest iOS 17.2 for iPhones, including a new pre-installed app, Journal. According to the Apple Newsroom, the app uses “on-device machine learning to provide personalized suggestions to inspire journal entries.” New AI technology is utilized to encourage self-reflection and mental health awareness. If people are already addicted to their phones, maybe healthy habits can come out of a notification. 

The unique suggestions are based on activity and include prompts for meaningful insights and reflection. They direct a focus on positivity, gratitude and kindness. These journal entries can also be linked to memories in a user’s camera roll or a certain person they have recently been in touch with.

Lauren Scidham, a freshman studying journalism, shared her appreciation for habitually journaling and the importance of positive thinking. 

“I always end my journals when I write with things I'm grateful for. I just feel like it's very cliche, but it's actually so necessary,” Scidham said. “It makes me aware of what I'm feeling, and sometimes I don't even realize it until I'm writing it down. I feel like when you start writing you kind of get into a flow.”

Content on the importance of journaling for emotional wellness from the University of Rochester Medical Center says journaling helps “Create order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. You get to know yourself by revealing your most private fears, thoughts and feelings.” 

Natalie Davet, a sophomore studying journalism, regularly uses a journal and likes the idea of having new prompts for her entries.

“I think it's kind of nice to have it as a reflection for the end of the day,” Davet said. “Kind of like promoting more things I'm interested in or giving me suggestions for doing things that I would enjoy.”

However, she shared she prefers to use a physical notebook instead of typing things into her phone, being able to add her own creativity and having the escape from technology. 

“I can really focus on what I'm doing at that moment and not be distracted by things popping up on my phone,” said Davet. “When I journal I like to use highlighters, and I'll add little drawings like cute little notes or something just to make it more creative.”

Alexander Bulmahn, a sophomore studying environmental biology, also prefers a physical notebook over typing notes into his phone. 

“Having a physical book to write in and no distractions really lets me escape,” Bulmahn said. “I have a preference towards the physical journal because it feels more real to me, but I could see how someone would like to have an app for convenience.”

Apple shares the incentive of scheduled notifications to make it a consistent practice. A studyfrom the European Journal of Social Psychology says habits take between 18 to 254 days to form. Mobile apps have already begun to use repetitive notifications and streaks to form habits in users. For example, the language app Duolingo sends people learning a language notifications to keep their streak going and to practice their new language.

“I often ignore things like that,” says Bulmahn on the use of notifications for new apps.

He thinks habits have to come from a personal willingness to make mental health a priority.

“I've tried, personally, and I think I just had to build the discipline myself, rather than rely on notifications,” he said.

One fear of the activity tracking and journaling suggestion API (application programming interface) is a lack of privacy, but users might feel safer knowing Apple ensures all entries are end-to-end encrypted in iCloud. In other words, all data is stored in a form that only the user can access when their phone is unlocked. There is also an option for secondary authentication through a passcode or FaceID to open the app. Secrets are safe in “the cloud,” according to Apple.

A notification to regularly return to an app might not create a newfound habit or streak for every Apple user, but the emergence of normative encouragement of mental health tools in more aspects of daily life might mean a more positive future in the world of technology. 


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