Monday, March 16, 2015

Forced Social Choices And The Rhetoric Of Individualism, Or, I Don't Want An Apple Watch -- Yet

On a scale of 1-10, my current desire for an Apple watch is trending near 0. I don't know about you, but I'm trying for a little less intimacy with my gadgets, not more. Certainly the Guardian's description of its new "Moments" for the Apple watch didn't bump me up. Moments from the news tailored for my needs? "Timely, simple, glanceable?" "If a reader wants more, they can turn to our phone app to get the full story"? WTF?

I speak of my desire "currently" trending advisedly, because we all know how changeable and easily manipulated consumer desires are. Maybe in five years I'll be the one with the watch connector embedded in my skin, stopping by the Mac genius bar whenever I get a rash or take an unapproved form of bubble bath. Who knows?

Anyway, I was thinking about the Apple watch the other day, and I got to imagining what circumstances would make me change my mind, and I got to musing about how massively socially influenced our decisions about such things are these days. "Influenced" is probably too weak a word, even. Basically when it comes to the fabric of life these days, there are lots of things where you can't realistically opt out at all.  

For example, many jobs now require not only cars and cellphones but also that you be on social media. I hate Microsoft Word and I try to avoid using it, but when there are these ubiquitous requirements to submit in .doc format -- what's a girl supposed to do? Just this morning there was an article in the New York Times about how online programs that are partly games and partly social media are going to force workers to bust their asses 110% or get canned.

Watch-wise, what's going to happen when your workplace tells you that it's a requirement that you wear a smartwatch so they can track your emotions and health so they can fire you for inefficient feelings and doing crazy shit like eating candy bars? Will we be glad to have the watch "option" around then? Isn't anyone else worried about these things?

I'm constantly trying in my tiny way to buck trends I think are awful, but sometimes I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness. As a person who is "carless by choice" catching or calling an occasional taxi is essential to my life. I live in dread of the time that "ride sharing" takes over, and traditional taxi service disappears, so that only smart-phone users can get rides and anyone who displeases their driver -- or is of the the wrong race/gender/sexual orientation/appearance/ability to afford a nice handbag -- can't get picked up. In hopes of supporting the old ways as long as possible, I ride the old-fashioned way. But I feel like it's a losing proposition.

I'm also freaking out about the possible disappearance of cash. I keep seeing these stories about how cash, being difficult to trace and antithetical to corporate interests in tracking customers' info, is going to be disappear. So I started trying to use it as often as possible. You may not know this, but cash is actually a pretty convenient form of payment. You can just put some "dollars" in a wallet or something, and then when it's time to pay you take them out and give them to the salesclerk. Voilà! It takes like two seconds. But -- call me crazy -- I don't see "cash" as one of the big twenty-first century trends.

Every time I think about the coming Internet of Things I remind myself not to buy any "smart" appliances that can track my Pinot Grigio consumption, my preference for full-fat yogurt, and so on, and share it with corporate and government interests. But then I think about how that's going to be -- about how to get repair or replacement parts you're going to have to go on eBay and connect with enthusiasts and get to know someone who knows a guy who fixes things in his basement. Maybe I should quit my job and become an appliance repair apprentice?

What changes all this from an interesting set of sociological changes and into something bizarre and confounding is that the new impossibility of social independence is happening alongside a huge recommitment to the rhetoric of individuality.

Aren't you sick of hearing that people can do what they want, and make their own future, and have to take responsibility for their choices? Aren't you sick of the presumption that if you chose a thing, you freely opted in, and you don't get to complain about the consequences?

The way people talk, you'd think we were living on a fucking prairie and keeping alive by  killing more small animals than the next guy, instead of facing, every day, choices like "play this ridiculous game and get nudged by your colleagues or ... starve." Thank you for playing!

Getting back to the watch. The one thing that might put me into positive watch desire territory would be if you could go out with just your watch. If your watch could function as your keys and your wallet and your phone -- and you didn't have to carry anything? No purse, or bag, or backpack? If you could wear a dress and shoes and a watch and that's it? Not have to carry anything? Hmmm ... if that were the deal I'd be crossing into dilemma territory.

But no -- the watch isn't even a replacement for your phone, which you still have to carry. It's just  kind of a way for you to be more intimate with your phone, which you then have to find a place for and not lose. Lucky, I guess, for all those surveillance companies that are using your phone to secretly track your whereabouts and share them with law enforcement.

But hey -- you phone users? You chose to have a phone, right? So you'll have to suck it up.

1 comment:

Janet Vickers said...

Thank you for writing about something that continues to darken my dreams at night.