Enough with the year-in-review app alerts: here are the online habits I really want to track in 2023 | Michael Sun

Annual wraps remind me I’m tethered to my phone like a sad puppy. So give me a round-up from the app with the plainest of truths

Over the last few weeks a particularly pernicious form of alert has been clogging up our phones. It is the beast with many heads – all of which are designed to attack me specifically – morphing into different shapes and appearing in the least expected of places. It is the year in review: the content sent out by our favourite and least favourite apps to confirm how much we have depended on them in the past 12 months; how much we are tethered to them like sad puppies waiting for treats (notifications) from our masters.

Spotify is the progenitor of this degrading trend: its annual Wrapped began in 2016, when seeing all your data crunched by a corporation was “fun” instead of “a haunting reminder of surveillance capitalism”. With its aggressive kookiness and promises of personal branding, it became a hit among those of us who defined our entire lives by consumption – not the chic kind that befalls a waify Victorian heroine, but a consumption far more prosaic. Suddenly, listening to your depression playlist on repeat 50 times wasn’t just cause for concern, it was also a shareable, snackable badge of pride.

Unfortunately, Spotify became a gateway for a host of other apps to follow suit with their own annual wraps. I am here to say: enough! No more! To Grindr I declare: I do not need to know that 10,000 horny gay men have been listening to Sam Smith. To Strava: I definitely do not need to know that in all of last year I embarked on a sum total of two runs and both were abandoned halfway.

Beem It calls its version the “Beem Bundle”. Why is an app that I use only perfunctorily to send and receive money trying to psychoanalyse my financial habits? I do not know, but when I finally click on its notification in the final, bleary-eyed week of 2022, it jolts me awake with with an overly enthusiastic greeting: “Hey Beemer!” This is definitely a slur, I decide – and that’s before it tells me my “Beemsona” is a “Beemfluencer”, which are two words that make me want to die instantly.

But because it is a new year – a time of forgiveness and growth etc etc – I will expunge these year-end humiliations from my system and instead take this opportunity to consider the apps I do want to receive an annual report from in 2023.


The only time I have ever felt anything akin to national identity is when people talk about the unbridled terror that accompanies an unexpected text message from MyGov; in these moments I feel truly unified with my fellow countrymen, one nation under panic. MyGov, in turn, should take ownership of its fearsome command: how many anxiety attacks will it induce within its users this year? As part of its year in review it could also (if you are an ATO agent please immediately stop reading this) shame me for filing my taxes five months late. I have mocked it up like so:

Mock ATO wrapped
MyGov take note: this is what your end-of-year wraps could look like. Illustration: Michael Sun


If you have a 19-year-old in your life, or indeed if you are a 19-year-old, you will know the power this clothing resell app wields over 25-year-olds whose glory days have long passed them and wish they were once again 19 (not speaking from personal experience or anything). The stats that Depop could collect in 12 months are certainly shameful – ie the number of times I have been scammed by someone hawking a $5 op-shop find for $70 – but at least this shame is productive. Maybe I will finally gain one crumb of self-respect and stop buying Y2K slogan tees from savvy teenagers. Unlikely to happen but regardless I am counting this as a win.

Google Maps

I am very geographically challenged, which means I spend more time on Google Maps than I do talking to my mother (sorry and I promise I’ll call). In 2023, it could catalogue all the time I have spent wandering the streets of Sydney like an urchin, head tilted up at 45 degrees to gaze forlornly at each passing street number and wonder why it does not match the one I have entered into the search bar. Luckily, this would also provide a watertight excuse the next time I am late to an event. “Sorry! I got lost!” I will plead to my friend while pointing at my Google Maps Wrapped, when in reality it is because I spent 50 minutes lying on my bed for no discernible reason.

New York Times crossword

About two years ago, I was part of a 20-large group chat where everyone dutifully played the NYT mini crossword daily: a free 5x5 grid that we would race to finish fastest. Because I am insane, I shelled out for a subscription to access the archives not for any sense of leisure or enjoyment, but purely to train in the way a runner might do laps, except much, much nerdier and with no physical exertion. I devoured 10, 20, 50 a day until (sorry to humblebrag) I could fill in the crossword within nine seconds, barely reading each clue as my fingers blurred across the screen. My training regimen, at last, was complete.

Unfortunately by this time most people had left the group chat or, worse, stopped replying. Every day I sent out reminders into the void: please play with me, today’s crossword is so fun, hello is anyone listening. But no one was listening. I was finally winning, but at what cost? There is a lesson here but I am choosing to ignore it. Instead I would like the NYT crossword app to send me a mathematical analysis of my mini crossword time in 2023 so I can reclaim some – any – of the sporting pride I once felt.

Screen time

Let us stop obfuscating: when all is said and done, the real reason why annual wraps are so terrible is because they remind us of the inanity of our own habits; they remind us that scrolling is not just part of our life, but our life itself. Therefore, we should simply go full hog and receive a year in review from the app with the plainest of truths: Screen Time, the iPhone function which exposes us at our ghastliest, as disgusting little cretins hunched over in bed, illuminated only by the glow of our devices for hours and hours. Go on, then. Tell us just how much time in a year we have spent using and complaining about all of our apps: how many days, weeks we could have been canoodling with our lovers or laughing with our friends or picking up our children one last time before they became teenagers and went to university and forged their own path in the world, leaving us alone and barren and reliant on our phones as a last means of salvation from the miserable detritus of our lives. Or maybe I’m being dramatic.

  • Michael Sun is Guardian Australia’s editorial assistant for features, culture and lifestyle. Twitter @mlchaelsun


Michael Sun

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