App-titude Test

In Should I Even Be Talking About This? on March 28, 2014 at 7:52 pm

I just finished an article in The Atlantic (Mar.’14) about Roboshopping (spell check keeps flagging the word, it’s new) Evidently, Wal-Mart has a new app for the Smart Phone, which is described like this:   ‘the app knows to turn on this thing called Store Mode, which surfaces in- store capabilities: Where is a product? Where is your shopping list? Where is the local ad for the store this week?’  (As of yet, no pictures to google map the particular children making the shoes for two cents an hour in foreign countries, but I trust a Wal-mart competitor is working on it)

This app is no different than a million other apps and electronics that ‘assist’ us each day. We have the Smart Phone that acts as a portable computer, GPS and lifeline- a myriad of electronic know- it- all at our beck and call. They serve as a kind of ‘external hard-drive’ for our brains.

But what effect does not having to think and trusting machines will do it for us, have on our life? With so much of ‘our’ knowledge being stored off-site (rather than in our brains) will our minds suffer the way bodies can, from complete lack of exercise? Would a massive power outage knock us out like a blow to the head, rendering us helpless?

Back in the not so distant day, we had to do all of this stuff for ourselves. We had to make our shopping list, get directions to places by asking someone (and write them down by hand) go for hours (sometimes days!) without seeing our friends because there was no way to access their humble-brags and Instagram’d meals like we can now. We’d sit at red lights and waiting rooms with zero entertainment-which could lead to thirty seconds- sometimes 30 minutes – or more!- of self reflection (Yes, this observation is the current equivalent of our parents saying they had to walk to school in the snow. With no shoes.)

We had to pace up and down grocery store aisles without a phone -whereas, with phone I notice people indulge in the most personal conversationsrather than face a moment of their own social discomfort! Now your inability to deal with radio silence is my problem– as in ‘Hey,  lady- by- the- rice: good luck at Evelyn’s appointment at the clinic on Tuesday. I hope it’s not that, either!” And man in the cookie aisle: I don’t know why they didn’t close on the house yet, either. It is almost April!’

People wear their phones like social armor, shielding themselves from any feeling that might be caused by a lull in the moment, or- god forbid- interactions. It sometimes seems like the person yapping on the phone in public thinks they look ‘popular’- yet all I can think is that they must be really insecure if they can’t just do the task at hand, and save us all from their personal life which always sounds so lame. (There is a difference between taking a quick  a call, and saying ‘I’ll call you when I get out of the store/office/restaurant.’ Normal people do that. It’s the upside of cell-phones. Oh- and a quick text works as well) Social media is a crutch for the awkward, and evidently, we’re all awkward but not willing to feel it. We will do anything rather than feel the thing.

This reminds me of a scene The Office, where Michael Scott and Dwight go on a business trip, using a GPS. They follow the directions exactly, and Michael, after being told to ‘make a right’, drives directly into a lake, because the GPS told him to, and he insisted on following it to the letter.

‘The Machines know!’ he yelled.

But  how much of the information that we trust is pure, and correct? After all, information is only as good as it’s source, and I doubt any of us really know whether or not the information we are privy to is accurate or free from ulterior motives. If an app tells you the nearest gas station is Shell- when there’s a BP right next to it, did Shell pay for the placement? Is Wal-Mart making shopping so easy that going to Target and having to ask an associate where the linens are will become a major inconvenience- a two second interaction that will ruin our whole day?

Does anyone else notice that ‘social media’ makes us the least ‘social’ people ever? Will brick-and-mortar stores eventually close down in favor of online shopping, leaving UPS and Fed-Ex drivers to be the only ones left roaming the land, like cowboys in the old (television show) west? Will social interactions become as rare and lonely as tumbleweeds? After all, if we already can’t risk looking each other in the eye, why bother venturing out at all?

With so much of our know-how stored off-site rather than permanently in our brains,- what will  happen when the system goes down, or is corrupted? Without spell check, will we even be able to correspond on paper? (True Story: I actually wrote an old school thank you card recently. I used a word I wasn’t confident of spelling, and pushed on it with the tip of the pen expecting to access Spellcheck.)

Without GPS will we be able to navigate our surroundings? I’m not one of those doom and gloomers about the future either- I love the new convenience that the internet has made possible. It’s just that in the back of my head, I wonder what the price will ultimately be, for all of us. How dependent are we on electricity (seriously, our entire lives are dependent on electricity) and spoon-fed information whose sources we don’t even question? Because now, when we fire up our laptops and phones, we’re turning on the lights to our day-to-day lives. I don’t think many of us could do it on our own anymore. And ‘ off the grid’ may as well be outer space!

What do you think?

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