What's up with all these Apps? [Daily Monitor, The (Uganda)]
(Daily Monitor, The (Uganda) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) I've recently been asking a question to which, so far at least, I have not got a satisfactory answer. It has to do with the software programmes that are better known to us as "Apps", short for applications.
These programmes are developed for use on the new version of Internet-enabled phones called "smartphones" and the devices that look like photo frames or trays called tablets or tablet computers.
The iPhone of Apple Corporation of the US and the Galaxy of Samsung Corporation of South Korea are the best-known "smart" phones. (I insist on terming them "smart" because I have my own doubts about the accuracy of that term. But let's continue.)
The best-known tablet computer is, of course, the iPad, a 2010 product developed by Apple, which is halfway between a smartphone and a laptop computer in size and function.
It has recently become the toy of choice for Uganda's Members of Parliament when they voted to buy each MP an iPad, the first waste of public money in recent Ugandan history that, for a change, was actually a progressive idea.
No dollar spent on a computer is a wasted dollar, even if these MPs' iPads usually end up in the hands of relatives, friends and side dishes.
So back to the Apps. An app is the soul of a smartphone or tablet. It is the equivalent of the SIM card of a phone, the CD of the CD player, the diskette of the 1990s computer era, the flash drive of today's USB-dominated computers, or to go even further back in time, the cassette tape of the radio cassette player.
The app is the thing that brings to life these hand-held computers and phones.
I am told that even without an app, one can still log onto the Internet with a smartphone or tablet via the more established web browsers like Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Google's Chrome.
In other words, you can still get onto the Internet even without a so-called app.
Big question My question is, why are we being flooded with so many apps these days? Every newspaper, TV station or website in the advanced industrial world or emerging market now tells us to "Download our new app for iPad, Kindle Fire and Android now", or whatever gadget it is.
The reason I'm told rather than that I know, is because I don't own a smatphone. My phone is the bare bones "kabiriti" GSM type that older or more rural Ugandans use, whose purpose is simply to call, beep or send and an sms --- and yes, receive mobile money. Nothing fancy. A simple phone just meant to be a phone, not an electronic version of the Swiss Army knife with its fork, knife, screwdriver, spoon, nail cutter and wine bottle opener.
So, once again, if one can get onto the Internet as one does from a laptop or desktop computer, why this craze for apps? I find that most apps are a repetition of what already exists.
Then 80 per cent of apps are more like children's toys than serving a serious purpose. There are apps to remind you to feed your dog. Apps to prompt you to say the Catholic rosary. Apps to help you find street directions. Apps to share jokes with friends.
Apps to help you share photos with friends. Apps brighten up your mood. Apps to help you choose whether to wear red or green toenail polish that day.
In other words, the further we go into the 21st Century, the more frivolous we seem to be becoming, helped by our personal friend called the smartphone.
People just have nothing better to do with their time these days, especially in the Western world. As Kate Russell, co-presenter of the BBC World TV digital technology programme "Click" sarcastically remarked last year, some of these apps are being created for the sake of being created, because they can be created.
We are into a new era of being idle and disorderly on a massive, global scale.
But because today's information economy is driven by numbers and pairs of eyes, clicks of computer mouse or finger touch of tablet/smartphone screens, the end justifies the means. The logic of the vast, networked economy is that what's hot is "cool", so go with it.
That is why the world's largest gathering for idle gossip, Facebook, recently bought another meeting point of idle minds, WhatsApp, for a staggering $19 billion.
Facebook has 1.2 billion registered idlers while the fast-growing WhatsApp brand has 45o million users.
These social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp are encouraging another trend of the 21st century: crowd this and crowd that.
Everything is now about collective, crowd action. 2012 cames with a video called "Kony 2012" with the theme "Let's make Kony famous".
The crowd got tweeting (the term for publishing messages on Twitter), re-tweeting, liking (Facebook's equivalent of re-tweeting, although the "Like" button gets awkward when one "likes", say, a notice by a person of a death in the family.)
More than 100 million views of Jason Russell's video on the Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony were registered on YouTube.
However, Kony appears to have had his cake and eaten it. We gave him invaluable global publicity but so far he has not been captured.
Recently, the crowd action moved to a kind of "Let's make Boko Haram famous" campaign, and in our naive hippy-idealistic way, a global effort undertaken, with celebrities and the US First Lady Michelle Obama leading the appeals and "Bring Back Our Girls" placard-holding, for Boko Haram to free the girls.
Rather than allow experienced counterterrorism experts and hostage negotiators to discreetly handle these sensitive matters, We the world now want to have our say in everything.
Last year when a Florida neighbourhood vigilante, George Zimmerman, got a light sentence for the murder (or manslaughter) of a Black teenager Treyvon Martin, the app-happy global crowd was at it again, condemning the jury's verdict.
The crowd, speaking from its base on social media, is now the world's parliament, opinion leader, the judge and jury, the media, the police. In the more sober past, we left certain things to competent people.
Today, every Tom, Dick and Tweep wants to be an authority on things that they know little of.
All this idleness made possible by the app. I say "Down with the Up!"
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