Early this week, an new productivity writing app was making the rounds. Calling itself “The Most Dangerous Writing App”, it’s a text editor that runs in the browser with one defining feature: stop typing and the screen grows redder and redder (the same visual feedback you’d find running low health in a first person shooter); idle for a full 7 seconds, and the app deletes all your writing.

Of course, if you need a quick breather you can simply input gibberish and then delete it. When I tried the app, whenever I found myself struggling for words, and the borders of the window starting looming – I would just
In fact, that interaction (hesitate, gibberish to prevent loss, return to writing) defined my experience of the app.

This isn’t the first app of it its kind. It’s a cousin of that other breed of “focus-enhancing” text editors. It’s simply another incarnation of the “Flow apps” that have been cropping up recently.

In January, the Verge reported on an iOS app that promises to induce the same flow-state by deleting text if you don’t continue. Even the Guardian covered on one of the first of these keep-writing-or-lose-everything gimmick apps.

I sense a lineage between these apps and free writing:

Free writing is a prewriting technique in which a person writes continuously for a set period of time without regard to spelling, grammar, or topic. It produces raw, often unusable material, but helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and self-criticism.

The tactile feedback of the keys, the constant
One of the problems with these apps, (much like the distraction free text editor) is that it reinforces the notion that productivity being tied to keystrokes. How these writing apps code the time between keystrokes makes writing look a lot like gaming.