The bombastic seduction of the apps, the velvety seduction of the apps… a fatal seduction.
Apple is the fruit of genesis, Apps, on the other hand could very well turn out to be the agent of apocalypse.
Niel Postman, defined U.S as “a technopoly, a system in which technology of every kind is cheerfully granted sovereignty over social institutions and national life, and becomes self-justifying, self-perpetuating and omnipresent. The Core of technopoly is a vast industry with license to use all available symbols to further the interests of commerce by devouring the psyches of consumers.”
Imagine entering a colossal hall where every inch of the wall is equipped with screens that are monitoring every single motion of your muscle, every twitch of your lips, every blink of your eye, and worse, every image in your brain. You are being dissected, cut open, deconstructed, to squeeze and extract out, with surgical precision, every speck of information that makes you.
That colossal hall in its modern manifestation is your new Smartphone, where apps operate as incognito screens, a surgeon’s forceps.
I-phone, and all the Smartphones and tablets, as Steve Jobs proudly liked to call them, are post-Pc devices. Devices that don’t confine you to the four walls, like your desktop computer does. But devices that are mobile, which run scores of Applications, which promise to be the aspirin to your headache, the Hansel to your Gratel, which promise you eureka. We are living in the era of the Mobile Application.
Apple’s App Store has over nine hundred thousand apps; Google’s Android store has over a million, and counting. These apps are broadly nested into sub categories – travel, news, reference, utility etc. They aim to be a digital panacea for our lives’ problems, take care of every little errand, turn us into encyclopedia Britannica, and even supplement all our emotional needs. Remember the Apple Ads – “There’s an app for that”. Given the sheer variety of “functions” that these apps promise to perform, the same ad could be extrapolated into something like: Want to have sex with your friend in the next two hrs, there’s an app for that, Want to send someone a dirty picture which lasts only for 5 seconds after which it self-destructs a la Mission Impossible, there’s an app for that, Want to sleep at work without your boss knowing, there’s an app for that… and so on and so forth.
A recent finding by UK based Global Web index lists the following as the top ten most popular apps across mobile platforms – Google Maps, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, WeChat, Twitter, Skype, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. It’s curious, that out of these ten apps, nine are based on connectivity, sharing, networking and the like. Each one of them, at the least has some sort of “social” garnish to it. Only two companies, Facebook and Google, own six of these apps, the ones who are most efficient at extracting and peddling user information to other businesses. Their only raison d ‘etre is to generate and embezzle copious amounts of user data. “I don’t know why… they trust me… dumb idiots” came out of Mark Zuckerberg’s lips in the dorm-room days of Facebook. At least nine of these apps have their revenue model based on advertisements. Robert McChesney, in his book Digital Disconnect develops the idea of how ‘sharing’ is embedded into the culture of the web, and has effectively made the subscription model inept, and how this phenomenon brings along significant negative externalities. Yahoo, the original ad agent, seems to have been handed a new lease of life with their new CEO, ex Google executive Marissa Mayer, who has been on a shopping spree of startup mobile apps and services. She sees a future there. Only two companies owning six of these apps, and with Yahoo’s exploits as a case-in-point, we are only going to see further monopolization of an ad-based internet industry that is being hailed as the most significant of “barrier-breaking”, “democratizing” tools since the dawn of mankind.
In the light of the NSA-Prism-Snowden debacle, it is imperative to mention how these handful of companies, through granting access to the insane quantity of user-data generated on their services, which the “dumb idiots” trusted them with, are operating as virtual double-agents of the US Government, becoming accomplices, under duress, legalese or otherwise, in what Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch’s Disrupt Conference described as the “wholesale destruction of human rights”. In them the state has found the most efficient, omniscient, the most advanced spying network that even their all-conquering omnipotent resources could never have thought of conjuring up, letting them do whatever the f*** they want to with the ‘treasure trove’ of the most personal of citizen data from across the world. It’s the state’s wet dream coming true. I, on my part have been evading, and intend to use every alibi in the book to avoid getting the ‘Aadhar’ card – and the fingerprint and retinal scan that accompanies it. It won’t be easy.
Lord Henry, one of Oscar Wilde’s most fascinating characters, in The Picture of Dorian Gray quips at Dorian – “There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral—immoral from the scientific point of view. Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him.”
When the hawkers at the South-East Asian flea markets and night markets, as I witnessed a few days back, start giving precedence to staring at their giant Chinese smartphone screens over showering “speca- price-jus-for-you”, for their louis vuittons and twenty-function “Swiss” knives, one only needs a mild sniff to smell the stench of the digital drug in the air.
Mobile apps should seem, even to a mild cynic, a tool strictly developed to interfere with and influence each and every little function and routine of our daily lives, define and redefine, shape and re-shape, interact with and distract from our daily existence, mostly for the purpose of shoving products that we don’t need and services we don’t care about, down our bloated consumerist throats, or creating digital drugs of fake farms, and fake mafias, and fake candies and fake avatars, all served on the go! The idea is they will not wait for us to sit in front of our computer screens, they will be in our pockets, they will want to be personalized, will want to know our most intimate details, change our most intimate preferences, they will want to change my internet from yours, they will pedicure our thoughts, manicure our imagination. Paul Baran and M. Sweezy, the Marxist economists wrote about “the molding of human wants and designing of products to satisfy them cease to be a result of the objectified forces of the market and become the outcome of a conscious manipulative effort on the part of a relatively small number of monopolistic corporations.” They are quite literally in the business of distraction, as Nicholas Carr said about Google. Mobile Apps could quite possibly be the greatest propaganda delivery system ever created.
Login Using Facebook: Most of us are familiar with this line which promises emancipation from all those lengthy registrations on myriad online services, news websites, photo sharing websites, movie booking websites, music streaming services, online shopping portals etc. These websites also run absolutely seamless mobile applications, which translate their entire website experience into a much crisper and intuitive mobile experience, with no trimming of functionality. If Mary Meeker at KPCB Technology Trends is right, mobile internet usage would surpass desktop internet usage by this time next year, i.e. bulk of the web traffic would be driven through such mobile applications. Now, this new phenomenon would essentially make Facebook-Google and a handful others the master keys of the World Wide Web. Thus all your daily activities, be it reading about Sheryln Chopra’s bosom, booking for a bikini wax, buying yourself discounted sneakers, will become a “Social” experience. You would be left with no choice but to become a gossip mongering, discount seeking, sleaze devouring public spectacle, among other things. Facebook home, the new initiative by Facebook, essentially converts your android phone, into a Facebook phone by just the touch of a button. Thereby converting your mobile phone into Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, where all your life’s plays are enacted in front of a packed house.
A few quarters back (those financial quarters), the clamour was on how best to push ads on mobile, those 4-5 inch devices, which lack crucial real estate where products can be hawked in their wholesome glory. Facebook, and its incredible talent pool seems to have unlocked that, which only a while back threatened to become the single biggest stifler of all innovation. Last month, for the first time, Facebook’s share price has gone past its original IPO price. The success of it is primarily being attributed to Facebook’s mobile ad strategy. Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, amongst the senior-most executives at Google, in their newly released, futuristic book The New Digital Age talk about a time where touching a screen would be replaced by your thoughts. Touching a screen would be passé; your motor nerves would be the latest tools for communicating with your device. Google Now, Google’s intelligent personal assistant for mobiles is just the step in this direction. It learns user behaviour, traces usage patterns, and thereby ‘assists’ in life’s daily functions. Like, setting the alarm by tracking your sleep patterns, without you having to do it manually, pulling out the news that you would care about, without you really having to browse for it, prompting you to pick up your caffeine shot from your favourite coffee shop whilst you are driving past it, and so on and so forth. Location based applications use your geo-satellite location to push all kinds of services, from the essential (locating a local pharmacy) to the outrageous (recommending you the closest strip club based on your last night’s browser search history). Take the case of the Boyfriend Tracker App, which has been subsequently taken off the Google App Store, which converts your subject’s phone into a ‘Private Detective’, emailing copies of all his messages and e-mails exchanged on the phone to you, tracking his current location, to a button which would make a call directly to your phone without him ever knowing. All this when we haven’t even scratched the surface of wearable technologies like the Google Glass and the smart watch, (Samsung launched its Smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear at a recent Press Event) and the intrusiveness that they are going to inflict, and how profoundly and rabidly they are going to change our entire social construct.
It can also be very persuasively argued, that the most prominent Internet services – Facebook, twitter et al would not have become the epochal force that they have if it wasn’t for the advent of apps. All the misgivings of the Internet are put on nitro boosters simply by adding mobility to them.
Along with these free social apps, controlled by a handful of monopolies, it’s the mobile games, which constantly top the download charts on any app store. They are based on a simple premise of being – simple, addictive and bearing an illusion of being free – be it tending a mythical farm, matching candies, slinging at birds of different shapes and sizes, or mindlessly scurrying through temples and caves a la Indiana Jones. The popularity of gaming has grown exponentially, bulldozing through new markets and new demographics beyond the pathological teenage video gamer. All these games of course have the “dreaded” social aspect to it. Remember how your friend’s black sheep ambled into your Facebook timeline? This has a meme effect. Game Developers are investing into ever more innovative ways for this meme to infect with greater sound and fury. Candy Crush Saga, which surpassed Farmville as the most popular application based game, for instance requires you to go begging your Facebook friends in order to prolong your game.
Sometimes, in this hyper information overdose of auto-refreshing news feeds, ever elongating twitter timelines, a million macro and micro blogging platforms and a billion posts emanating from them, where social meetings are more of an exercise in showing off the latest piece of trivia or doling out instant-souped-maggi-noodled opinions, picked up on one of these multiple information aggregating apps, doesn’t one want to say – I have had enough, I am done with this nonsense? I refuse to use up my cache of the brain, which is strictly meant for critical thinking and problem solving, with absolutely meaningless and incoherent trivia about the most random things? Mobile apps and the information scattering that they indulge in, all real-time, give us an illusion of being smart, being in the thick of things, being there, while the exact opposite is true. The problem is when those who subscribe to this kind of information juggling gain access to a wider social circle, while those who refuse to, feel left out. Apps are the new opiate of the masses. When the hawkers at the South-East Asian flea markets and night markets, as I witnessed a few days back, start giving precedence to staring at their giant Chinese smartphone screens over showering “speca- price-jus-for-you”, for their louis vuittons and twenty-function “Swiss” knives, one only needs a mild sniff to smell the stench of the digital drug in the air.
The irony of it though is, as Mark Bauerlein, quoted by Robert McChesney in his book, argues “young people today constitute the ‘dumbest generation’ shockingly ignorant of civics, history, geography, science, literature, the works. To Bauerlin, the emergence of digital media is the main culprit in this sudden transformation. Dwelling in a world of puerile banter and coarse images, they are actively cut off from world realities like no other generation.”
Every social gathering of smart-phoned participants has turned into a ramp-walk of latest mobile app acquisitions, as if it were the new badge of virility. In reality it has turned into an exercise in advertisement consumption, an exercise in digital drug-induced reality distortion of refreshing Facebook timelines, and scrolling twitter feeds, of instagramming inanities, and matching candies. Where mere connection, passes off as conversation. Where something very important to being human is being lost.
Remember what Uday Prakash wrote about alienating our thoughts, about isolating our conversation.
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