The other day I was walking about aimlessly, looking here, looking there, generally in a lethargic mood, undecided about what I would do next, what I wanted to do, and very aware that in the meanwhile, work and errands and chores were piling up. It felt good to just take a walk without purpose – I was ‘browsing about’ one might say.
Then, a friend walked by and another and another and before I knew it, several people were rushing towards something in the distance. I stood on my tiptoes and looked ahead but I couldn’t figure out what was up. I shrugged and went back to my ambling, but then someone stopped and said to me: “Aren’t you coming?”
“There’s a great new video, just launched, everybody is talking about it.”
“What’s it about then?”
“No idea but I am letting everyone know that everyone’s talking about a new video.” And he rushed past.
I stood there for a bit, trying to think. Then another friend stopped and asked: “Hey did you see that new video? It’s awesome. And by the way, there’s a new band that’s released a great song as well. Check it out.” And off she went.
I was still standing, not worried one bit, and now trying harder to think. And then another friend came and another and soon I wasn’t standing any more but floating, ethereally, like a ball of energy, floating North towards a giant video (which nobody had still seen) and I was about to reach the video and finally see it but then I felt myself floating away towards that great new song (which, again, nobody had heard yet), and then I floated towards what seemed like a picture of …
Baba? What baba? Where did all the people go? And that video, I want to see that video!! I looked around and saw my five-year-old and two-and-a-half-year old looking at me expectantly.
“What is it?!” I asked, irritated.
“Well, you said you were taking a break from work and after checking email on your phone, you would play with us. Are you coming now? We’ve got the dinosaurs and wild animals and the jungle is all set up.” They grinned at me. I grinned back, kept the phone away, and got off the couch. That had been a close one. Another few minutes and I would have been into angry zone. The app really sucks you in. In fact, that’s why I had deleted the app from my phone a few months ago. It was a mistake to think that I had the measure of it.
But that’s how great social media apps are. The engagement level of activities is so good that you get sucked in, connecting, and sharing and sharing and sharing and sometimes seeing and some lesser times reading and some even lesser times actually writing or some rare times creating something new yourself. And once in, I don’t realise that I am doing very little useful work, and just whiling away time interacting with others who are also doing very little useful work … and we are all being watched by people who are actually working, watching us whiling away our time, making copious notes on what we are whiling away our time on, how we are feeling, how many times we are doing what, and all of that data then goes back to some other people who are then analysing all the copious information and then further back up it keeps going, till it reaches the architects who go “hmmm,” and then they add something or delete something in the architecture, and then a battery of engineers go about implementing it, and then testers test it, and then there is a flurry of more such real work and weeks later, there is a new feature or environment or offering and I go floating again, and the watchers get more to watch and the analysts have more to analyse and the whole cycle continues till I spend more and more time in the app and outside of the real world and then, the app becomes my world and the real world becomes hell, and I became the snarling, fire-breathing dragon.
That’s with the great apps.
Then there are the mediocre or rank bad apps. The common thread (in my very limited, layman, untutored, understanding – hope I have put in enough disclaimers there) in all of the new technology and social media is that they all aim for one thing: to the centre of some part of my mind-space. The centre. The core. Of my mind. On most days, My Mind = My World. And so they are learning me and learning me more and soon they are learning me so well that I am learning what they predict I will learn. Basically, they are all predictive tech. And the fundamental problem with predictive tools/apps is that they are presumptuous about your thought process/workflow/game-flow and they use that presumption to guide user experience. Now we have seen (in the ramble above) what can happen when predictive user experiences are in the hands of great architects. But in the hands of not-so-great architects, that leads to the opposite of a good user experience, at best it can be irritating, at its worst it leads to a breakdown of normal functioning leading to loss of productivity, the average is that it is neither great nor terrible, which is the most dangerous ground to be on because it reduces efficiency and seamlessness incrementally across levels, leading to a net loss across time but it isn’t evident enough on a daily basis for one to exit the tool.
Now imagine two such tools in your life, both vying to predictively guide your life on a daily basis. And then imagine 10. And then some more … and that’s my world today.
And so, apart from religious dogma, social contracts, cultural conditioning, big business, media, alcohol, tobacco, weed, and sundry other substances, I now have to be wary of technology and I have a sinking feeling that tech-rehab might not get the job done.
So do I fight all the battles or do I chose them? And if chose the battles, how do I go about it?
Inky pinky ponky …