Apps in War

A quote from Leon Trotsky, plus a tiny photo of him. The quote says, "You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you."
Old Quote- New Meaning: Apps in War

Dear Ms. Smartphone: My family lives in France and they are using apps to follow what’s happening with our relatives in Ukraine. I live here and am honestly not familiar with using apps in wartime. I have been trying to keep up with the invasion on news and Twitter but am I missing sites? I did give up using TikTok- it just seemed contrived at this time.  Mikhail, San Francisco

Dear Mikhail: It’s good you gave up on TikTok. Social media has wormed its way into apps on warfare and there have been concerns that the GPS on TikTok could compromise military operations. In fact, the Indian government banned it completely. I hope that going forward your family, both in Ukraine and in France will be safe yet able to get timely and reliable updates from each other.


Your question got me curious about other apps in war that might be used. Today’s it called “cyber warfare” and there were some interesting leads. 

The app you mention for following news about the war in Ukraine is called Telegram. NPR had a descriptive background story. Two Russian brothers, the Durovs, set it up in 2014 as a way to circumvent the Kremlin and let fellow Russians learn what was happening in their country. Today, Telegram operates from Dubai and has about 30 employees. It has become, quotes NPR, the preferred news source for Ukrainians and Russians who use smartphones to track what is happening. There are private channels (like Slack)  for communications with family members or friends, and public ones, for daily videos and updates.  Sadly, there are allegations that the site is not secure and is being used for propaganda purposes. So, if you choose to use Telegram, keep that caveat in mind.

Premise Data & MAPPING:

Assuming your relatives in Ukraine have a smartphone or know someone who does, they might have downloaded a Google app called Air Raid Alerts. It is a supplement to the country’s existing air raid alert system and accesses the same public channel. (Here in the U.S., a similar app is used to announce an impending tsunami or provide earthquake warnings.)

But, apps for war are also being used behind the scenes by Russian-Ukraine military operations. The Wall St. Journal cites a mobile app maker called Premise Data Corp. that had to shut down its operations there. It paid smartphone users to do remote observational tasks such as photography. Bluetooth and wireless sensors on their phones might have also been accessed  to map out cell networks and WiFi access points. The Kyiv government accused Premise of being a tool that Russian forces used to locate Ukrainian targets. So, quote “out of an abundance of caution they suspended operations.”  A few weeks later (3/1)  Google Maps began removing user-submitted locations because they were allegedly being used to target airstrikes. Again, Google officials state they removed the app for the same reasons, “out of an abundance of caution.”


When you look at smartphones in war it is a recent development that soldiers and civilians alike can send images from day to day operations. Wired magazine says this began with the Iraqi war and dates it to 2016, the battle for Mosul.  This visual documentation has become a democratic way of conducting a war but is uncharted territory in terms of what it foments. Do these real-time images help civilians and soldiers process the horror of war and express their emotional angst or do they stir up factions and seed new schisms?

In Ukraine the app makers have not left this opportunity pass them by. Now, in an advanced country of cyber-coders, a well-acclaimed Ukrainian video game producer called Reface has gotten into the news business. Their popular software features let users swap out faces on video. They now compile daily video feeds of the war based on clips and images circulating on social media. They also add the face of Volodymyr Zelensky to the heroic moments. Say the founders of Reface: he is today’s Jack Sparrow, Hulk and Iron Man. 

Stay Well:

So, going back to your original question, I hope your family weathers this OK and you can find ways to stay in touch and support them. The media can help you find legitimate, reliable places to give donations and aid. But, in a recent post, I noted how hard it is to know where to get news these days. We are increasingly pulled into the war machinery. As the apocalyptic quote from Leon Trostkey quote states, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”  Through phones and social media, the citizen journalist or soldier shares stories (often personal) and photos (often altered). Inadvertently, these same phones share crowd sourced data, sensors, and the triangulation of location.

Phone at Dinner Table?

Is Phone Part of the Plating?

A cartoon of a table place setting in 1952 versus in 2022. A phone and a TV remote have been added in 2022 to the traditional setting of fork, plate, knife and spoon. Toon by Bob Englehart.
Phone at Dinner Table? Artist: Bob Englehart, 2022

Dear Ms Smartphone: The cartoon you had on Instagram this week got me thinking. It shows a  place setting from the 1950’s with a plate, a knife, and a fork.  Next to it is a contemporary  place setting with a plate, a knife,  a fork, also  a TV clicker and mobile phone.  Here’s my question: If you had to choose, would it be a phone at the dinner table or a TV remote? Lee, Silver Spring.

Dear Lee:  First, recognition to the syndicated artist.  His name is Bob Englehart and his online bio says that he was born in 1945 in Indiana. That tells us that he  is a Boomer and has personally experienced the progression of the place settings. *

As to whether I would choose the phone or the TV remote, my first response is neither, but there will be exceptions! Reacting to the cartoon on Instagram, one follower notes that he does food photography so no meal is left unphotographed!  Short of that, we devalue our food and the people who prepared it when we let electronics intercede. There’s considerable research that shows the quality of conversation between two people suffers when one of them puts a phone on the table, even if the phone is turned off. The presence of the phone takes people out of the immediate moment. 

Electronic media, whether TV or phone, moves our awareness away from the meal being served, i.e., the present moment. Alternatively, you could use mealtime as a go-to exercise in mindfulness. And, the best thing is that you get to  practice it three times a day. To begin, you acknowledge and give thanks for the water and soil and sun, the farmers, the harvest, and the workers in the supply chain that help bring this food to your plate. 

When we eat in front of the TV or distract ourselves with our phone we are less mindful- we may forget to pay attention to the flavor of the food, how much has been eaten, and occasionally, whether we are satiated. There is a strong correlation (not causality) between spending more time on TV and obesity. For teens, more hours on video games and electronic media is associated with obesity. Most likely, there is a trigger-cue-behavior of engaging with media, distraction, and snacking. If we start doing this at the dinner table, does that habit follow us to the family room and other spaces where we use electronic devices?

But, back to the question you raised. I would choose the TV over the phone at the dinner table. TV is less of a one-to-one medium than the smartphone.  I personally have the day’s newspapers spread out at breakfast and lunch. Sometimes the TV show or newspapers will draw out a conversation, and create a more shared experience.   Mealtime should be an opportunity for families to reconnect, even if their conversation focusses on the cartoon! The presence of a phone implicitly says that a family member prioritizes something outside the room over the people who are present.

It’s been a while since I watched much over-the-air TV, but prime-time used to be filled with ads for snacks, sugar filled drinks, and higher fat foods. Today, these have been supplanted by ads for prescription drugs and pills. Is one healthier than the other? It might be a good idea if you do watch family TV together to draw attention to the content of these ads and talk through what screen-time is telling us about ourselves. If you follow the ads on your smartphone, they will be more personalized based on what you scroll for and spend time looking at. What content are they pushing? That might be a great discussion to have over the dinner table!

* Englehart’s  toon ran on the editorial pages of the Bay Area Newspaper Group  (Marin Independent) on 3/8/22). 

NoPhone Zone Party

A picture of a football and in the background the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign in the hills. This is for the Superbowl in LA, Feb. 2022/
NoPhone Zone Party photocredit:

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I am invited to a Super Bowl party at a private club in Los Angeles and it should be a fun time. But I am wondering about the invitation. My friend says that I will need to leave my phone in a Yondr bag they provide, and the club will return my phone after the game. They call it a NoPhone Zone Party. I don’t see why they are making me do this! I always use my phone when I watch games on TV! Sean, Camarillo

Dear Sean: It sounds like you are going to be close to the action! For readers who don’t know: it’s the Rams vs. the Bengals, and a Yondr pouch “locks up” your phone when you enter a phone-free zone, like the party you were invited to. When guests arrive at the venue, phones and smart watches are placed in these proprietary, zipped pouches. As you exit, there’s staff with a tap reader to unlock the case.  That’s the essence of a NoPhone Zone Party.

The interesting question is why this club is enforcing a no-phone zone during the game. If they were part of the old Nielsen ratings, I would say it would be to get your undivided attention for those million dollar ++ ads or the half-time show. Today, I surmise it’s to get your focus in a more mindful and immediate manner.

Most likely the hosts want their guests to have personal interactions, not distant ones. Like you, many people watch television with a phone in hand- especially during sports. They talk aloud or send out pictures, text, and email.  A Nielsen poll from 2019 says that 73 percent of US adults use a digital device at least occasionally while watching TV, and 45 percent of those respondents do so “very often” or “always.” 

But, it’s not just about social media. The same poll says people use their phone while watching TV to look up information related to the content. In this case, what are the favored odds in this game and how are they updating?!

Betting on you and Them!

And that brings up another reason why phones might be barred from the Super Bowl event you are attending. Mobile betting is growing exponentially. Last month, New York State launched it and within four days the sites handled $603.1 million! (albeit, the Buffalo Bills were in the playoffs). It was convenient- no traveling to New Jersey or a casino to place the wager anymore.

It’s likely that your LA event planners are trying to keep you engaged in their space-  talking and interacting person-to-person, while you watch the big screen game. Perhaps it’s the first time since Covid restrictions began and they want to normalize relationships. Or, more speculatively, they have their own planning for a blow-out half-time show!

It’s been a while, but removing the phone is going to change the dynamics of this party. Instead of interacting outside the room, you will have to intermingle within the room and have a shared group experience. That’s a throwback! 


Speaking of throwback, a few days prior to SuperBowl XIV, the LA Rams General Manager commented that defensive end Jack Youngblood was a “throwback” because like other legendary players, he played through injuries and pain. More commonly, today throwback refers to wearing a jersey from a past year or era of your team. 

Who knows, perhaps that Yondr bag will be the throwback to Super Bowl LVI!