When I woke up with a steaming head the other morning, it wasn’t the paracetomol that I instinctively reached for. I immediately thought: there’s an app for that. And there is, sort of. It’s linked to a weird device I have to strap to my head, which then delivers low-grade electric shocks to my brain that soothe or possibly burn out the pain receptors. But the important thing is that there’s an app for that.
There are very few things that haven’t been apped™. These days I take a photo of my receipts, an app sends them to a real live person who then enters them into a spreadsheet, which is emailed to me as a report at the end of the month. You can find apps that tell you how and where to buy fresh fish sustainably. That will instantly connect you to a doctor. That reminds you to take a break from your computer screen. There are even diving and swimming apps. Because your RM3,000 phone really needs to swim.
Let’s be clear. Apple didn’t invent the app. It certainly popularized them and showed its competitors, with brutal efficiency, how to monetize them. Along with the widespread adoption of the word, chillax, apps have led to some of the most squeamishly gruesome experiences you can have with older family members. Oh yes, your freaky, chillaxing grandpa has a Tinder profile and a confirmed rubber fetish.
Back in the good old days, when fish were so numerous we fought wars against them and small children scampered happily up chimney flues to earn their daily bread, apps were known as programs. These stroke inducing, time-sucking shards of bloatware took days to install and years to pay off. All to add cut and paste functionality. Apps are the inverse; sleek, cheap and sexy. Or, in grandpa’s case, and for sex.
And, like grandpa, apps are easy; anyone can make one. Even dummies. Plenty of companies make free app builders that allow you to assemble pre-written lumps of codes like Lego bricks. Some do it out of the kindness of their heart – or as they prefer to call it, upselling you greater functionality—others will even publish this astounding brain belch on your behalf and take a percentage of sales revenues as they roll in like sclerotic pennies.
Naturally, despite the five minutes of unfettered genius you spent conceptualizing and system architecting ShooLaze: A Hipster’s Guide to Tying Your Shoes, you’re unlikely to strike binary oil. Official calculations that I’ve just made up put the current number of apps on the planet at around 14 for every man, woman and child. There are now more apps than are sharks. Probably.
Future households will not be judged by income, cars or power tools, but by the number of apps they’ve published. Those chimney loving kids will be cruelly imprisoned in ergonomic chairs, slaving in front of a giant retina display while their father boasting how little Charlie’s Pampass, an Instagram for nappy rash, has made it into the top billion titles in the app charts.
I don’t hate apps. I have—hang on, I’m counting—137 of them on my phone, at least three of which are useful. But we’re rapidly approaching the stage where we will all have our own apps much as we used to have a personal blog. Forget Facebook, it’s full of other people. On the MattMatters app there’s only me, in high definition, zoomable 360° surround-o-vision. Send me a bitcoin, I’ll even add sound.
We’re on the final ascent to the hairy summit of me culture. Way beyond boring lifecasting, this will be every life laid, in grandpa’s case, physically bare. Every single moment of your life filtered and editorialized. Your heart rate and blood pressure. Your carefully curated tee-shirt and sneakers combos. That ironic macchiato. We’ll all be doing it, and no one will be listening. No one to download your app but you. The loneliness of oversharing.
In the spirit of the overshare, I feel a pressing need to sneeze. There’s an app for that. But I’d rather use a tissue.