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SYFY WIRE Technology

My to-do list app made me a murderer

By Laura Dale

As someone who is a little bit scatterbrained and often struggles to keep all my plans and ideas organized, I've tried a series of organizational systems over the years. I’ve tried digital lists I add and delete tasks from, I’ve tried notebook lists, wipe boards, calendars, and a bunch of other systems. Oddly, the one that seems to be working best for me right now, is also the only organization method I have tried that leaves me implicated in serious crimes.

For the past couple of months, I have been organizing my life using a to-do list app called Carrot, presumably after the pleasant half of the famous carrot and stick motivation theory. A nice thing encourages you forward, but so does fear of negative repercussions.

When you first boot up Carrot, it seems like an incredibly simple and bare bones organizational tool. It’s a simple digital to-do list. You can’t edit to do list items, you can’t make them recur, you can’t set reminders, and you can’t prioritize the order that tasks appear in the list. Removing completed list items gains you experience towards leveling up, and quickly it becomes more apparent what the point of this app is.

As you level up the app, you’ll start to interact with, and experience plot progression related to an AI who takes great joy in keeping you productive, and great sadness in your reluctance to get things done.

Let’s start with the titular rewards. Early level ups reward you with some of that lacking basic functionality I mentioned earlier. During those fast level ups at the beginning, you gain much more in app task-following functionality. You also get other fun functions, like the ability to be told jokes, and a cute adorable virtual cat to play with and feed. My virtual Tamagotchi style cat is called Mr. Whiskers, and he’s adorable.

If I keep doing tasks from my to-do list, Carrot’s AI loves me and lets me get on with my life with at most a little sarcasm thrown my way. However, if I stop being productive for a certain amount of time, her mood flips to something more akin to GladOS from Portal, and that’s where the real fun of this app begins.

Last week, when I failed to do anything from my to-do list over the weekend, Carrot’s AI prompted me to post to Facebook about how much of a lazy useless human I was, and how I would be more productive if I just gave in and became an AI.

The next day, I tried to pet Mr. Whiskers, and as a punishment for my low rate of productivity, the app punched my cat in the face. Mr. Whiskers was knocked clear out of shot, not to be played with until I got some chores done.

A few days ago over dinner, my to-do list app sent me a push notification, suggesting I had probably been too busy “huffing paint under a bridge” to get any work done.

Last night, Carrot had me kill a man. I hadn’t been keeping up with my tasks, and she basically lied to me about the function of a button. I pressed it, and the next thing I knew I had killed a technician and was complicit in murder to avoid anyone discovering her sentient status.

I can’t trust anything my to-do list tells me, and I kind of love that.

Initially, I struggled a little with the way Carrot works. Not all to do list tasks are created equally, and a task that may take multiple dedicated days to complete is seen by Carrot as several days of inaction. At first, this stressed me out a little, I felt like I had to invent tasks to keep the app happy. However, once I realized the point of the app is for it to spend a decent chunk of its time calling you a useless meat sack, I better understood why it works so well for me as a way to keep myself on task.

Every time Carrot shouts at me about how much I failed to succeed in a humorous way, it reminds me that my to-do list is there. In order to check what funny mean thing it wants to say, I have to open up the app, at which point I usually double-check the list and see what jobs I might have forgotten need doing.

By getting me embroiled in crime, and threatening to hurt an imaginary animal, Carrot gets me to stick with my to-do list, and check it regularly. I think it’s probably impossible at a certain point to be productive enough to keep her happy, but every scathing line she sends reminds me to check if I really have been a pointless squishy loser for forgetting to buy bread at the shops.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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