‘My phone says I can’t go out until Tuesday, so I can’t come and meet you,’ said my friend. And she repeated this down the line several times, as I insisted I did not understand.
I had nipped outside the hairdresser with my hair in highlighter foils to take her call and was standing on the street, phone tucked under the silver-paper flaps, a stiff wind blowing. I assumed she must be saying something else and I had misheard.
‘It’s the app on my phone,’ she explained. ‘I’ve counted the days myself and I should be able to go out today, but my phone says I have to stay in for another day, so I’ll do that.’
I get that she was isolating after contracting Covid, even though she was double vaccinated, but that’s another story. What I didn’t understand was how an app could count better than she could.
I haven’t ever downloaded any apps. Something told me, when the app thing started, that madness lurked in the promise ‘Just download the app’.
When I think of the institutions insisting that I ‘just download the app’ — banks, Facebook, the NHS Test and Trace — I wonder just why these masters of manipulation want me to just download the app.
A friend of mine in her sixties was fumbling about on her phone the other night trying to transfer money to me for half a curry takeaway for four at her house. She squinted into the screen, pulling her reading glasses this way and that, murmuring, ‘Oh no, wait, that’s not it, hang on…’
She didn’t have any cash, either in her purse or anywhere in the house, being convinced that all she ever had to do regarding money now was poke her phone.
As I watched, she pressed so many of the wrong icons that I became convinced she was more likely to end up taking £300 out of my account rather than putting £30 into it. ‘Please, just leave it, you get the next one,’ I begged, but she insisted: ‘No! It’s so easy! Oh dear, hang on…’
Another friend of a certain age, during a recent shopping trip, dealt with her share of lunch similarly, by poking away at her phone with a manicured forefinger, giggling: ‘Oh no, oops!’ We stood in the street for half an hour as she tried to defy age, bad eyesight and generational computer illiteracy.
‘Honestly, it’s fine, you get the next one,’ I pleaded, as she stabbed away at her bank accounts, transferring savings and investments, opening new accounts and applying for Isas. ‘No, it’s fine, it’s so easy! Oh dear, that’s my pension. Hang on…’
Of course the banks want you to just download the app. Of course the NHS wants you to just download the app. Of course Mark Zuckerberg wants you to let him get inside your phone, as well as your laptop. It doesn’t make life easier for you, it makes life easier for them. While you struggle with a tiny screen, they get to push their ideas at you 24/7.
‘I’ll WhatsApp you,’ says almost everyone now, refusing to pay 10p for a text message that doesn’t involve shenanigans. I’m sick of telling people I don’t do WhatsApp. That’s the Rat King of the apps.
Once you’re on WhatsApp you’re entangled in a seemingly unlimited morass of people strangling each other with the tentacles of their most banal ideas.
The builder boyfriend is on it and it pings all day long with the meaningless chatter of various ‘groups’ he claims he has to be in touch with.
One group, for example, is all the women in the stable yard where he keeps his horses. They ping from dawn till dusk discussing who is going to use the arena and when, what jumps they are going to put up, when they are going to take them down, and later, whether or not they picked up the poo afterwards. It starts at daybreak and goes on until 7 p.m. when there is a nightly curfew imposed by the yard manager, who has to be on there for logistical reasons but clearly cannot cope with conversations about nothing continuing long into the night.
At 7 p.m. they all start discussing that it is now 7 p.m. and they must swap over onto what they call PM, or private messaging. This discussion, about who will now be PMing whom and on what format, continues until the yard manager tells them that if they don’t shut up she’ll throw them all out of the yard.
I’m amazed by it, just as I’m amazed by people downloading NHS Test and Trace and letting it tell them when they can leave the house. But people seem to like it, and prefer it to their own decision-making.
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