My friend Karen Wilson wrote this article about the Lifey app for our local newspaper, and I thought I’d share it with you! Enjoy!
Lifey – There’s An App For That!
Want to keep track of where all your family members are at any given time? There’s an app for that! Want to track how many miles you walk and how many calories you consume each day?
There’s an app for that! Want to listen to someone read you your favorite novel? There’s an app for that! Want to connect with people who have had similar experiences as you or who have words of wisdom about a career, or health condition, or place to live or any number of other life experiences? There’s an app for that, too! It’s called “Lifey” and its founder and developer, Alex Balinski, is a new resident of Tipton.
The Lifey app is a mobile platform that allows people to share their stories, experiences, and what they’ve learned in order to help others throughout the world. Alex explained, “It’s a ‘been there, done that’ kind of thing. You’re about to do what they did, so you can learn from their experience. This app is a place to organize all that collective wisdom and just make it easy for everyone to learn from each other in a respectful environment.”
In ancient times, people sought wisdom and counsel from an oracle. This counsel was considered words of wisdom directly from the mouth of a god, funneled through a person to help others here on earth. Many oracles demanded some kind of animal or human sacrifice before their advice was dispensed. Some scholars contend that modern religions are merely extensions of the oracle idea.
In today’s world, many people consider talk-show hosts or TV doctors to be an oracle of sorts, while others search for wisdom or counsel on social media sites, such as Face book or Instagram. As a species, human beings crave connection and understanding and, as history has shown, we are willing to go to great lengths to find it.
So, is Lifey just another social media forum for people to post pictures or express controversial opinions? No! Alex specifically believes that “every person has unique experiences and insights that can help someone else in the world. This app is about listening, seeking to understand and learn; it’s not about arguing or contention. Many social media sites have algorithms that promote content that is controversial and I don’t think that’s healthy. Even if you disagree with someone’s opinion, you can listen respectfully and learn from others.”
How can an app do all of that? After all, an app, (short for application), is merely a computer software program designed to run on a mobile phone. It seems like it might be a stretch to say that an app can provide real human connection and effect positive change in our world. But, that’s exactly what Lifey is designed to do. Alex feels that “this is the one big thing I want to do before I die—to contribute back to the world. Growing up I had the intense desire to make a difference in the world for good.”
Alex grew up in Concord, NH and, at age 16, skipped his senior year of high school and moved to Provo, Utah to begin college at Brigham Young University. He received his degree in Journalism and Communication, but along the way began to see a pathway that could help him achieve his goal of effecting real change in the world. He started researching web resources available on line and took some classes to help him understand social media. As a freshman in college, Alex began “creating video resources.”
In 2012, he started the “Prepare to Serve” You Tube channel, which was a channel dedicated to preparing missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which Alex is a member. The future missionaries could view videos that gave lots of information about the areas of the world where they would be going to serve as missionaries for 18-24 months. Alex served a mission in Argentina and wishes that he’d had this type of resource to help in his own preparation. This initial You Tube channel consisted of interviews from about 1,000 returned missionaries who shared their experiences and insights.
After a couple of years, he created other You Tube channels, “interviewing people about their health conditions and creating free video biographies.” As much as he enjoyed this, he felt there had to be a better way to organize and disseminate information and shared experiences. So, in August 2018, “Prepare to serve” became Lifey.
Under the Lifey umbrella, there is a website: lifey.org, as well as the Lifey You Tube channel, which has had more than 50 million views, nearly 100,000 subscribers, and over 100 million minutes of watch time, and now, the Lifey app, which can be downloaded from the Google play store or the Apple store directly to your mobile device.
Lifey currently has 5 forum topics, but Alex plans to expand that number to thousands before he’s all done. The Lifey app depends on crowd-sourcing to provide the video resources. Crowd-sourcing is “getting a bunch of people in the community to contribute their thoughts and experiences and then, making all of that available for free for everyone to benefit from; building a community resource that everyone can benefit from.” But, in this case, the community that Alex envisions is the entire world.
So, how does all this work? First, you need to download the app to your mobile device. It is very user friendly and easy to download (and if I say its user friendly, it really is!) There are some short videos about Lifey that you can watch that explain how it came to be and how it works or you can just dive right in to the video forums. There are currently 5 forum topics for you to browse: Christian topics, countries, health conditions, missions, and US cities. (Alex is currently adding a category for all 50 states that should be up and running before the end of the summer).
To browse a topic, simply click on it. For example, if you click on health conditions, you will see an alphabetical list of health conditions from Acne to Williams Syndrome, with over 200 other conditions in between, some you have probably heard of and lots you probably haven’t. When you click on a specific condition, you will see a list of topics relating to that condition, such as helpful tips or personal experiences, or 10-15 others. Then, you have the option to watch a 60-second video that has been uploaded to that topic (In many cases, there are lots of these short videos for each topic) or you can choose to record your own 60-second video to share your own insights or experiences.
After you have recorded your video, you hit the upload button, and the video is sent to the Lifey server for verification. Alex reviews each video himself, filtering for any content that might be harmful or hateful. With “little or no editing, other than lighting or sound”, the video is then available for others to view and experience.
But, why not just use your favorite search engine to get information about a topic? That’s a valid question and Alex has this answer: “Google search or other search engines give you lots of info. Usually there’s a news article that’s been written by someone who has done both primary and secondary research, and that’s good, but how much cooler is it to get that information directly from people who are directly affected by it? When trying to make a decision in life, in general, it’s a good principle to get information from multiple sources. By default, the Lifey app allows you to watch several people share their stories, insights, and/or experiences, until you’re satisfied. By doing this, you can get more, and better, context.”
You might ask, at this point, about how you can believe or trust those people who upload their videos to the app? That’s another good question and one that I also asked. I have installed the app and randomly selected some of the videos to watch about topics that interested me. But, there is no introduction of who this person is that’s talking to you, no information about them at all, just 60 seconds of them sharing from the heart. Alex believes that this type of anonymity helps protect the people making the videos, as well as helping to eliminate a lot of the emotional baggage that accompanies social media use.
He said, “I find that people are really willing to share their experiences, especially when they believe it will help others. But, if their name or other information is attached to the video, then they can be tracked down or messaged. This way, no one can be harmed by contributing.”
According to Alex, “There is lots of negativism and contention on platforms like Facebook. I am personally disincentivized from sharing really personally powerful and helpful experiences that I’ve had because if I do, I know I’ll be opening a can of worms that I can’t close. I don’t want to engage in the argument. It’s not a conducive environment for sharing certain personal things.” Lifey, on the other hand, has “the potential to do so much good! I see it becoming the best resource period. By ‘best’, I mean the most magical experience for a user, one that gives you clean, wholesome, most helpful information; exciting and useful.”
There also is no financial incentive that could taint contributors. All of the people who upload videos do so without any financial compensation, nor is there anything to purchase on the app; it is literally “a search engine of shared human experiences and wisdom; a virtualizing of a normal human experience.”
Alex has been self-employed now for nearly 7 years, focusing all his career energies on developing the Lifey concept. He and his wife, Rebecca, have 4 children ranging in age from 9 months to 6 years. His desire to effect positive change has “definitely required a lot of sacrifice,” according to Rebecca. “We didn’t even have a car until after we had our 3rd child. We walked everywhere and lived very frugally.” All of which is completely understandable when you don’t have a steady income source.
But, this is becoming the wave of the future. According to the Pew Research Center, one in four Americans now derives their living directly from the Internet. There are definite advantages to working online, the biggest being that you can choose where you wish to live. The Balinski’s were struggling financially when they lived in Utah and so, about a year ago, began a search to find a more economically friendly place to reside. Their search took them through rural Utah, Idaho, Wisconsin, Indiana, and central Missouri. When they visited the Tipton area and began to look at homes, they “just felt at home, like they belonged.” Two months ago, they permanently made Tipton their home.
Another huge factor in their decision to relocate to Tipton was that of fast, reliable internet. There is no possible way that Alex can have a successful internet-based video business with slow internet. “The gigabit internet with unlimited data offered by Co-Mo has really made all the difference.”
They were also searching for a place with less pollution than a big city, lower crime rates, and less traffic which would provide more safety for their growing family. Tipton fit the bill in all of these categories.
Rebecca loves having her husband work from home. She says that “if he went out to work, he’d be bouncing ideas off of his co-workers, but this way, he instead can bounce them off of me. He has a big vision—it can be overwhelming at times, but it’s very exciting! I believe in what he’s doing. I know Alex, he’s filled with positive energy, and I’ve seen what he’s going to do with all his positive energy and it’s really built my confidence. I believe in him and I know that he can do whatever he puts his mind to.”
Alex also benefits from the working-at-home synergy with his wife. She has big plans for expanding the Lifey topics to include “hard experiences, more meaningful experiences, more general ones that anyone can relate to.”
Alex is a man of deep religious faith and believes that he has been led to pursue this line of work in an effort to bless all of God’s children. “I felt very clearly directed to pursue these projects and go down this path. I’ve come to the personal confidence that this is what I’m supposed to do and I’m committed to it. I’m very passionate about the cause and care so intensely about doing what I feel my Heavenly Father wants me to do.”
He and Rebecca have made it a point to pray specifically for guidance regarding each step of this journey and have seen many “tender mercies” along the way. One of the biggest occurred shortly after he quit his job in 2012 to pursue this vocation full-time. “We were offered free rent for 3 years! We had no idea that was coming, but what a tender mercy that was!”
While no one can be certain what the future holds, Alex has bright hopes for the future of Lifey. His biggest present goal is to “build video count. The app has no value without the videos; they’re the resource.”
An article that I wrote years ago, “It’s up to me”, was included in the book, “Chocolate for a Woman’s Spirit.” Shortly after the book was published, I received a phone call late one night from a woman that I didn’t know (this was before cell phones and I didn’t have caller ID). She told me who she was and then, told me her incredibly sad story that had culminated in her decision to take her own life. Then, she said that what had saved her was reading my story and realizing that there was someone else out there who’d gone through something similar; and if I could get through it, then so could she.
You may have heard the phrase, “Make yourself part of the solution.” Each of us can become part of this search engine of collective wisdom and experience—by taking just 10-20 minutes, downloading the app to your mobile device, and uploading a video or two. We all have something to say! That’s very evident each and every day on the various social media forums that we all browse. Why not do something positive and share what you have to say in a way that can help others? Just like me, you never know who might view your video or be helped by your story.