Do Android Users Dream of Electric Sheep?

Written by: John Roy

The future is here, and John Roy hates it.

Do Android users dream of electric sheep?

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap. That’s is pretty much the gist of each and every Android/iPhone app out there, unless it’s some kind of reference tool. In which case it may be a bit of tap, tap, slide, slide, pinch fingers, tap, read.

In any case, the end result is a growing population whose eyes must be permanently fixed to a screen that obediently responds to their every touch thus reassuring them of their status as a unique and beautiful snowflake… for which a carefully selected Google Play or iPhone application has been personally designed for.

It’s a potent mix of control, nepotism (worked in by the admittedly genial app boffins behind the scenes) and some kind of internal vacuum-filler on behalf of the user. It’s this vacuum that worries me; it’s there already, but software on phones is making it worse, fuelling it, and cementing it in the psyche as something that can only be filled by ultimately pointless software. The worst part is that it’s socially acceptable, even cool, to live in this lobotomised “world”.

I say world – let’s be frank, it’s not “the world”. Reality is not defined (well it shouldn’t be) by a status update, or news feed, or hash tag or comment or uploaded photo. Visiting any canteen or lunchtime restaurant, or pub at the weekend, I am compelled to wander around and smash the glowing screens upwards. Nothing would satisfy me more than confetti of component parts, silicon and the shattered ‘world’ of the social networking plebs to come crashing down around us. Just had a JD and Coke in a pub have you? OMG I’m there in five!

Droves of morons, not even sure why they are doing it, updating statuses with their current whereabouts or last meal, ‘checking in’ at some superfluous location every man and his dog has been too (or not, because they are on some work jolly or other that would normally only be purveyed by world-class personalities such as Chloe Simms/Dappy/insert some ponce from Made In Chelsea here).

In the world prior to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Bebo and the rest, did people text each and every one of their friends regarding their mid-afternoon nap? No they didn’t; social networking sites have made this evolutionary step forwards though, so now we can all enjoy these events from the palms of our hands, as notifications pop up all day long to tell us about the belch caused by that last Jammy Dodger.

I’d call myself an occasional and reluctant social network user. It’s a bit like being a capitalist; the system sucks but you have to be a part of it or you may as well be crucified (first on the left, one Facebook profile each) or go and live on an island somewhere. My disgust is evident during the probable once-twice-daily glance – I insist to check if anyone is using facebook to coordinate a social event or other that would normally have been sorted with one group-text but has now become the War and Peace of verbose conjecture – when it dawns on me that droves of people have been updating their status with must-see earth-shattering news at all hours.

You know, things like waking up in the night; or mesmerising philosophic revelations such as loving beans on toast; or scientific breakthroughs such as a baby (their own – usually photographed and uploaded as their profile picture) – being cute. Sickeningly these updates are usually concordant from the point of going to bed, to the point at waking up the next morning. This proves that the first thing that person thinks of each day, and the last thing they think of each night, is sharing some pointless verbal afterbirth with the rest of the world. How many times have you seen an update posted at 3am, regarding a nightmare someone woke up to? This behaviour should send an instant 10,000 volt shock into the handset, to (at least) seriously hurt the end user.

I may sound slightly harsh there; I probably am, but the occasional universalism or lighthearted comment would be welcomed in person, it’s called humour and it makes people happy, and you don’t need a fanbase to do it. No doubt there are hash tags and status updates out there that will mention the great conversation someone has just had about the most “random” event. Ignore them, have one yourself. Like a Big Art Attack but with more interaction and less Neil Buchannan.

Many a Facebook ‘friends cull’ has occurred, but you’re not safe. It spreads like a virus and infiltrates the inner sanctum, before you know it the friends you thought still had souls have sold them down the River Styx and have begun spilling emotion, thro away opinion (presented as fact) and personal strife all over their chosen vessel and into the annals of the widgets, et al.

Apps are frequently just as distressing. Upon a recent showing of the most excellent The Walking Dead a pre-programme trailer advertised the app that allows the user to ‘count the kills’ in the episode, and ‘predict the kills’. Forgive me if I’m wrong… what extra experience can this possibly add to the episode apart from annoying distraction, bordering on intelligence-sapping programme-ruiner?  Counting the kills?! “Yes but it can hear the episode and tell you who killed the zombie”; I know because I am watching the episode and the cognitive links between my brain cells inform each other that the character I know by name, has used an object I know through learning, to perform an act I know to damage soft tissue and brain matter, which I know also through learning, and mythological reference, can kill a zombie (a creature I recognize as a literary creation of the horror genre). “Yes but the app made an axe noise when Hershel hit the zombie and killed it with the axe”; Sorry, must dash home, I’ve left my bollocks in the dishwasher, let me know what happens. “Shall I Tweet you like in this Walking Dead app?” Piss off.

Zombie killing motherfucker

Returning to my opening paragraph, I draw direct attention to the surface level interactivity that many apps are guilty of. Marketed and lauded via word-of-mouth as amazingly interactive, most apps are tantamount to on-the-rails at best… a smoke and mirrors exercise in the user just tapping a screen, or sliding on a screen to some kind of visual stimuli. This is effectively an illusion of control and interactivity, and something that can really only be offered by the home consoles and PC games that are under threat from this new mainstream culture.

How can this be amusing? What about the ‘Roll down the bog roll’ game? Hours of fun I’m sure, but only when the alternative is using a rusty set of forceps to pull your intestines out through your anus. You will tell me there are plenty of shooters out there, or puzzle games, or racing games – my argument is not with the porting of classic gaming archetypes (otherwise I’d have lambasted the trusty Game Boy in 1990), but with the new breed of apps and games designed simply to destroy the art of conversation and get you tap tap tapping all the way to the next ad-widget.

The merits of content, design, art and practicality could be debated endlessly. I will at this point concede practical apps – things like a gas and electric meter reader, a barcode scanner for online retail, a route planner, a book stored in silicon etc. Fine, take them, better than a glove compartment full of paper or a massive wrongly-balanced gas bill. Fill your boots with those.

It’s the apps that play into the ever increasing inability of members of the public to just sit quietly and have a think or observe that I object to. Those that have killed the practice of ‘watching the world go by’. Have attention spans dropped so dramatically in the last two or three years? Why do people need to be constantly staring at some kind of glowing screen? Tapping away at some nondescript “game” they can’t remember five minutes later? Constantly tweeting or status-updating? Sin-upon-sin; asking the automaton Siri; “Will the weather will be nice tomorrow?” Take a look out of the window, or bother to visit the MET office website.

You’re only interested in the weather now because some exceptionally clever boffins at Apple have had their internet shortcut (that’s what Siri is; a verbal one instead of an icon-based one) pushed by the equally clever marketing guys to make you think it’s something revolutionary. Except, ironically, the coveted Siri doesn’t work.

Siri sucksAs you will have guessed by now I don’t subscribe to these devices being anything other than, on the most part, pointless gimmicks. Imagine my joy when a friend excitedly told me about the latest iPhone, and the amazing Siri. With sweaty palms they presented it to me in all it’s glory; marvelling at the slim design, the sleek angles, the weight, the memory, the battery life. Oh my!

Totally uninterested, I humoured them as Siri loaded up in five times the time it would have taken someone with no thumbs, just two fingers and a learning disability to type “Weather” into an ‘old-fashioned’ Google shortcut. I was assured the results would be worth that wait, I would be blown away and converted to this new world of wonder; “What’s the weather like tomorrow? A beep… another beep…Siri then replied. As Siri spoke the look on the face of my friend transformed from joy to… something else. Not annoyance, not humour at the technology not working properly, not even confusion…. it was dark, pure anger. As ‘The best waiter in Tomozow’ was being loaded up via Siri, my friend swore, and tapped, and swore again all blotchy faced and offended. Offended; by a computer.

That’s when it clicked. All these apps, social networking in one’s palm, the total control they offer. They’re actually very dangerous to the internal rational compass of the weak-willed. It’s a seductive power to many, and when it doesn’t work those people who’ve lost their in-built grounding do flip-out, or at least get very distressed.

For years the evils of online chat rooms, gambling and ‘grooming’ have been widely known – it’s now going mainstream in this socially accepted form. Ok, so not everyone using Androids or iPhones excessively (what’s ‘excessive’ anymore?) are gambling-addicted, egotistical, insecure, attention-seeking, celebrity-obsessed, maniacal paedophiles (most are, of course)… but they do all have one thing in common – addiction. This addiction though is a destroyer of true, human, social interaction.

There is no doubt that out there, there are already people unable to speak to another person about their problems. Others seek self-gratification via social networking by pandering to the values attributed as ‘worthy’ by a tripe-peddling mainstream media. You’re worthless unless you are ‘in to’ the same activities as the Z-listers in OK! or More; so you update your status when you do something, anything, in order to appeal to your sub-celebrity circles and their equally warped world-view, at a local level.

To a more serious extreme you can’t articulate feelings or emotions because you have never had to, or no longer need, to bypass nature’s killswitch for when things are becoming OTT or getting beyond the reasonable – embarrassment. Tapping away at a phone you can sweep aside emotion and act ruthlessly and selfishly, texting and statusing yourself in and out of relationships and debates willy-nilly.

How many times have you sat in a restaurant and slammed the parents letting their kids play on phones at dinner? Never? Then you need to have a word with yourself (not them, they might be ‘nutters’, and stab you in the neck with a spoon). Today’s kids tapping in restaurants are tomorrow’s dysfunctional parents. Slam them (not literally, you will be imprisoned).

Take pride in the noise and the singing and the silly comments all your kids (or future kids) are making; they will be better people for it. Sociable, articulate and liked (alright, perhaps they’ll wind up being hateful pieces of work), and if they are it won’t just be by a ‘thumbs-up’ icon on some networking site or other. That’s true, and ultimate, insignificance if it’s the only form of interaction we have with our friends.

It’s all about balance, and the balance and momentum is shifting the wrong way.

They’ll be able to communicate, hold a conversation, tell someone they love them without looking at the floor; tell someone what the problem is and why, and work it out. Able to sit and contemplate, to be patient and pensive, to read between the lines whilst all around them people tap and fidget because they have idle hands that need to feel silicon beneath them.

It’s all about balance, and the balance and momentum is shifting the wrong way. As a species we always seem to wait until we are on the precipice before we turn around to see the solution. Do we really think that a generation of people only able to communicate via electronic devices is healthy? People not able to create their own entertainment and share stories with each other about their last night out, or social event, or day trip – who’d rather sit in silence only to internally relish that the last pig has been exploded by a particularly Angry Bird? Sunday afternoons where whole families sit and tap tap tap away en masse, individually, instead of talking to each other?

Imagine the blind panic and inability to cope that we’d see in the West if wifi and 3G just stopped working? Personally I’d relish that moment, I hope it comes, if only to see the IT equivalent of a zombie-apocalypse; in which I, and people like me, are the chainsaw-wielding stump-handers that previously held an Android phone. Cyber terrorism is only frightening to the personality vacuums tethered to all the wifi hotspots, or wandering around with a Bluetooth headset on.

You are probably reading this on an iPhone or Android device. You’re just about finished with this article, so it’s time to beat level 50 on whatever game you are playing this week… or you could turn to the person next to you at lunch and have a good old-fashioned chin-wag about just how partisan I am, or just how right I may be, or how I’m somewhere in the middle.

Or, if you can’t be bothered, I challenge you to recall your last five status updates, tweets or app-gaming experiences.

You can’t, can you?


Author: John Roy

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