The App Pandemic

I was invited by a friend to hang out at a café nearby that I won’t name, but its selling point was that it let our University students sit in there for as long as they wanted and order unlimited free drinks. 

I should have known there would be a catch. 

Before we could be seated, a waitress first asked me to download the café’s official app on my phone and make an account. 

I should explain here that my smartphone is a capricious, supernatural being with some sort of vendetta against me. It knows when it is about to be called to perform a vital service and chooses that exact moment to drag itself down to a pace so slow that even the most well-natured of friends begin to shoot murderous looks as it decides to try out the 2G life. 

I was not disappointed on this day. 

“Can I just pay for my drinks instead?” I asked, “my internet isn’t cooperating.”

Pulling a coin or two out of my wallet in return for a single cup of coffee was far more an attractive prospect at the moment than having my smartphone overheat from its exertion and die right there. 

“I’m afraid you can’t,” the waitress said, “you need our app to be seated. Here, you can use our wifi.”

Seeing no way out, I followed her instructions and soon reached a page where I had to fill in so many details about myself that I felt as if I were applying for a visa to visit a war-struck country. Three questions in and I was beginning to suspect that the café was just a front for an identity harvesting cyber crime group that used free coffee to lure in stingy and broke college students. I discreetly hit the power button on my phone.

“Oh dear,” I said, “my phone died.”

That day, I had the surreal experience of being kicked out of a café for wanting to pay with cash instead of my personal details. 

Via Unsplash

With the warp-speed development in smartphone technology, apps are now legitimate concepts and frequently used terms in our vocabulary whereas ten or fifteen years ago they didn’t even exist. 

This isn’t an article complaining about how the ‘young ones’ can’t take their eyes off their phones. In fact, I’m quite devoted and defensive about my apps   *cough*Instagram*cough* and am often perfectly happy to give away entire hours of my day to watch dogs being tricked by their owners or snigger at memes (me, not the dog).

But our social media websites have moved from being mere outlets of entertainment and communication to now become major modes of information, payment, and giving/getting services such as taxis and pizzas. Online feedback culture has gained much traction all over the world in recent years as a result and many companies directly depend on internet users and their input in order to function. Google reviews, TripAdvisor, AirBnb, Yelp are examples of such channels and it makes sense, considering how we now look up the digital reputation of a product or service before spending our money on it in real life. I’ve had the experience of being asked to rate a restaurant's service on its partner app while I was midway through my main course in my home country, and nearly every time I buy something in Tokyo, the cashier asks me if I have an affiliated app or tries to convince me to download one. My best experience was having a medical worker who drew some blood from my arm ask if I would kindly oblige to send my feedback to her boss and rate her service. 

“Of course,” I said faintly, “also, I’m bleeding all over you.”

Via Unsplash

Once again, I’m not protesting. I think technological innovation should be warmly welcomed…but not at the cost of wiping out every system that existed before it. In a world where many people are comfortable with using their credit and debit cards to pay, I still prefer to use cash for privacy reasons. I don’t make use of student discounts at entertainment centers because I’m not comfortable showing my student ID card with my home address on it to complete strangers just for 10% off. You might call me paranoid, but I believe that the difference is paid out in the personal details one mindlessly hands over that can be used to expose your digital shadow and reveal details you would have never consented to telling a stranger otherwise (like your home address, sexual orientation, habitual hang-out places, search history, etc.) and in doing so compromise your online and offline security. I’ll never forget the look on the face of a friend who just found out that their iPhone was tracking the number of steps they had been taking everyday and over time, collected a year’s worth of data about their activities in a database that even they didn’t know existed. 

To close, I’ll just say that I know I may belong to the small minority of individuals who reject the increasing dependence and reliance on our devices which modern society insists is normal and strives to further encourage. While I have no complaints against the larger group of people who have found their lives becoming more convenient and efficient due to these revolutionary changes, I am strongly against any private system that forces consumers to adopt a level of technology or even a mere app that they do not desire or find necessary in the first place.

Though we might go about it in different ways, I think that one value we can all hopefully agree on is that safeguarding our personal information in the current digital age is of paramount importance.