When the pandemic hit this year, and took a toll on the mental health of both me and those around me, I began to notice patterns in our collective depression. Whenever I was talking to people over the phone, in a virtual meeting, or sometimes by text, everyone would put on a smile, even if they've recently had some difficult times. This seemed to be reflected in my conversations with close friends as well. When I start conversing with a friend, somehow the darker thoughts don't seem as relevant anymore, and the anxious thoughts seem to drift away. Not only did this observation show me the true resilience we have as humans to move on, but also how simple it can be to recontextualize our frame of mind. In the case where my friends and I were suffering from mild anxiety, just a simple check-in text or seeing the smile of a friend on our screens was enough.
Texts on a friend's iPhone.
To explore this idea, I challenged myself to build an app that will periodically send out nice texts to people. As a lot of us use our phones daily, I thought a texting app would be the most accessible way to reach out to people—guaranteeing the texts would most likely be seen without being overly-disruptive.
I collected quotes or phrases that are either ridiculously goofy, or offer some form of insight into mindfulness—in hopes that the sender can receive a lighthearted distraction to their day, and maybe feel a little less alone.
The collection of "nice" texts that are sent out.
To do this, I used the Twilio SMS API, and Heroku to build a Python app that does 3 things: 1) manages a database of subscribed numbers, 2) calls the Twilio API, and 3) runs a scheduled cron job that would send out texts periodically.
Diagram flow of the text-me-smth-nice app.
I also built a simple form on the front-end, that can take a phone number and send it to an API route hosted by the Python app, to add to the database of subscribed numbers.
The app is now live, and can be found on my website: annaylin.com/text-me-smth-nice. People can fill out the form with their number and start receiving texts, and they can also pause or stop the service as well.
I've gotten positive feedback from friends so far, and I would love to add more features to the texting app, such as allowing users to submit their own nice texts they'd like to hear, or making the scheduler send out texts over a more randomized period of time rather than at a determined periodic rate.
Working on this project allowed me to see tech as a tool that can improve our mental health, rather than just a technological skill I can use to build apps. It's shined a light on a new facet of technology for me, and I'm excited to continue building projects in this realm.