Eight Mind-Enhancing Apps

To Guide You Safely Through the Circus of 2017

I don’t have to tell you that your mind is walking a tightrope. If you’re a distance learner you already have various factions competing for your time and attention, and your brain is like an exhausted high-wire artist obliged to carry that pole through its balancing act again and again. You’re under tremendous pressure to discipline yourself and to protect your study time from interruptions long enough to ace the latest course. Such pressure can actually sabotage your educational goals.

Your neurons are threatened from another quarter by the internet. Despite that without the internet distance learning wouldn’t exist as we know it, the web presents a forest of distractions that have taken root in your brain as inner voices that say, “Wonder if my old flame is online?” or “Hey, I think I may have a lifechanging email waiting,” or “if there’s another terrorist attack somewhere in the world I need to know about it right away,” or “that article about how to be less anxious might really help me be less anxious.”

Your intellect, numb from memorising statistics, must then dumb itself down for social media avatars. Before you know it you don’t have an educated opinion about anything anymore, and at this moment in history the need for educated opinions is burning. True, most of your autodidactism ought to be coming from outside the web, but since you’re here anyway, why not make good use of the resources, few as they may be, that the internet can offer your ailing thought life?

If you play your cards right, using apps shouldn’t take any more time from your already stretched schedule; they should just help you make better use of the time you have. You can easily battle those internalised demons of inanity, or resist them at least, armed with the following tools for your Android phone. And most of them are free.

1. CBC Radio
Stay both current and thoughtful by listening to the CBC while washing the fine china. This app provides you with CBC’s most popular radio shows; you can pick your favourites, add them to the “My Radio” list, and make the most of dishwashing time.

The only drawback of this app is the inordinate number of clicks you have to make to get to where you want to be, as well as the surprising frequency of cuts to the feed (hey, CBC, fix this, wouldja?). Thoughtful analyses of current events, scientific discoveries, humour, spiritual fodder, new ideas, great music, and storytelling abound. As an elderly woman back home used to say, “Listen to the CBC? it’ll make ya smart!”

2. Scribd
For finding books, this one’s a winner because of great selection and ease of use, so much so that the monthly cost of $12.27 can be counted as a solid investment in your mental prowess. Scribd lets you read both new and old books, bestsellers and classics, audio and print. Whenever I hear mention of a book or author that sounds interesting, Scribd is the first place I look.

Scribd lets you create your own little collections based on whatever theme you choose, makes recommendations for you, and lets you highlight and make notes. You can use it on any device and download books to read when you’re offline. You can also upload your own work? even sell it if you’ve a mind to.

3. Free Books
What impresses me most about this app is that it was here that I found by Jens Peter Jacobsen’s Niels Lyhne, an important Danish novel I hadn’t been able to find in English anywhere else (you heard me, Scribd). It’s strange that the book is so hard to find because Rilke praises it in his Letters to a Young Poet, one of the most-read books for thoughtful folks like us. Go figure.

Trust me on this: You need to have a canon of classic literature handy when life gets confusing and Free Books is the best online repository of the best old tomes. Go look up The Devils by Dostoevsky for a probing up-close view of the conditions that lead to the Russian revolution, or look up some of Mark Twain’s lesser-known novels for some insights into what makes America?don’t snicker?what it is today.

FreeBooks doesn’t have the bells and whistles of Scribd, but it’s free, there’s no limit on how many books you can read, and you can read it on anything. They have a large number of audio titles as well, and most of the voices are quite bearable.

4. Earbits
This wonderful little music app has introduced me to many great new acts (if you’re looking for old stuff, Youtube still holds the keys to that kingdom) which is kind of what it’s about, I think. You choose from a smorgasbord of moods, activities, genres and subgenres, and the app chooses music to stream for you. The interface is aesthetically pleasing and the selection is vast. Earbits has taken its lumps financially, but it survived, and it’s still free. Thank goodness for that.

5. StoryCorps
Some of the most moving, meaningful anecdotes you’ll ever hear come from ordinary folks talking about their life experiences. StoryCorps accomplished something profound when it provided human beings the means of collecting and sharing stories, whether their own or those of their dear ones.

There’s the girl who interviews her mentally challenged mother, the family that talks about the impact of their father’s brilliant but sometimes disturbing practical jokes, or the soldier who befriended the Iraqi translator and then helped him and his family come to the United States. These are stories that foster compassionate understanding and create positive change. Let’s fill our online time with more stuff like this and humanise the internet, shall we?

6. Sundance Now
I once had a philosophy professor who told us that if we were struggling to figure out a philosophical problem, or how to write about one, we should go and see a movie. This way the mind, distracted from overthinking, could rejuvenate itself, as it were. He added that sometimes when we do this the mind goes to work in secret while the film is playing and solves the problem for us. In my experience the mind just takes a break; but after watching a film we sometimes find ourselves better equipped to solve the problem. Either way, watching films, especially smart films, can, in theory, help you be a smarter student.

Sundance Now proffers a delightful selection of indie films, and they’re always adding great new stuff. For just a few dollars a month you can watch brilliant quirky gems from the past and present? documentaries, drama, comedy, and more. It’s a great way to unwind when you just can’t go on thinking any longer.

7. Blinkist
Need to learn something in a hurry but your studies won’t allow you time to read a whole book? Try this sweet little app, also just a few loonies per month, and you can listen to a whole (condensed) nonfiction book while you’re changing the drapes, cleaning the parrot cage, or polishing the silver. You’ll feel like Data when he plugs himself in and virtually absorbs the knowledge of earth’s history in the twinkling of an eye.

8. Buddhify
Sometimes you just need to stop thinking. That can be hard to do when your nose is in the screen and books all day. Still, taking a little time to meditate now and then can loosen the stranglehold of daily obligations, including your studies, enabling you to return to your courses with renewed vigour. When the pressures of keeping up while balancing other parts of your life proves too much, meditation is a great way of turning it all off for a while and getting some perspective on what really matters.

Buddhify is cheap but effective, walking you through managing stress, anxiety, anger, etc., or just helping you get a good night’s sleep.

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.