Inside view Metroplus

Planet of the Apps

Illustration: Sreejith R.Kumar   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R. Kumar

New Year resolutions are meant to be broken; that’s precisely the reason they are made in the first place, with ditto marks faithfully added at the beginning of every year. No longer, it seems, if you go by the news that there are apps to keep tabs on your resolve. These apps will push and prod you successfully through your resolutions to the bitter end, leaving you a nervous wreck. But not to worry, other apps are waiting around the cyber corner to put the pieces together and make a new, improved you.

Welcome to Earth, the ‘Planet of the Apps’ – a delightful coinage by a young friend, Adithya, who was tickled when ‘Apes’ was mispronounced ‘Apps’ and then realised he had stumbled upon an apt, need-of- the-hour phrase. Now Big Brother is not just watching; he’s listening, smelling, advising, monitoring and pronouncing verdicts on every little that people do. The American Dialect Society showed great clairvoyance when in 2010 it chose ‘App’ as its Word (or shall we call it ‘Appellative’?) of the Year. Since then the digital stage has been keeping time to the tune of ‘here an app, there an app, everywhere an app app...’

All you need is an Android tablet, an iPad or a smartphone and an app is just a tap away. The smartphone is an ’appening place with apps for every need and for every age – babysitting, education, news, travel, self help, shopping, sports, games, movies, cookery, fitness... you name it, they have it.

Apps haven’t taken over my life for the simple reason I don’t have a smartphone. I need a phone only for calls and messages; a phone I can rely on. Watching users grapple with the smartphone’s strange antics has made me wary of the gizmo. The super sensitive touch screen adds to everyone’s woes. It was the stuff of magic when it first appeared; I remember watching wide-eyed as a friend showed off his new smartphone. He touched the screen with a stylus that seemed like a wand; nothing happened. Then he cursed, ‘What the...you so-and-so!’ and oh, wow, it worked with the effectiveness of an ‘Open Sesame.’ The cave of spectacular hi tech riches flew open and along with it the liberal spouting of four letter words whenever the smartphone played over smart.

I remember how once the phone rang at about 3 in the morning, alarming us out of our sleep. A phone call at that time can only mean bad news. The best of news waits for a decent hour to be communicated, even if it is that your mother has won the Nobel Peace Prize or your husband has managed a successful coup and become President of a banana republic. The call was from my son’s friend Ajay. Jittery, my husband returned the call, but Ajay didn't respond. He tried three times, and then gave up, but it put paid to our sleep.

In the morning Ajay asked why we had called three times in the night. ‘Any emergency?’ Well, really! ‘You called us,’ we protested groggily. Now he acknowledged it could have been his new smartphone’s fault – it would call random numbers at any time of the day or night and wouldn't register the calls either. More sneaky than smart, that.

My husband, a reluctant smartphone user, has one with a mischievous mind of its own. It invariably hangs whenever he leaves the city, sometimes when he doesn't, messages get sent when half written and multiple times too, they appear and disappear quixotically, calls get cut off mid-sentence, videos misbehave, photos vanish... The other day he lost the names of all his contacts; only the numbers remained. Now he has lost a few friends.

My friends provide me with other experiences. I remember taking a call from a friend – one moment she was loud and clear, the next she was off the air. She later said it was because she had shifted the phone from her left ear to her right. Another friend and her dog worked themselves to a frenzy hunting for a phantom cat that let out piteous meows at strange hours until she realised it was her phone’s ring tone.

Problems abound and warnings regularly sounded – loading glitches, net work and wi fi malfunctions, charging troubles, radiation fears, addiction, nomophobia... but who cares? Once the Internet of Things or IoT succeeds in linking everyone and everything, will science fiction become fact? Per apps.

(A fortnightly column by city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series)

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2021 7:44:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/inside-view-column-planet-of-the-apps/article6771759.ece

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