I slouched on the bus one morning about a week ago after a night of no sleep, and thought to myself: “this day is going to be kak”. I knew it the moment I stepped out of the house, and whether it was a case of self-fulfilling prophecy or not, I gave myself a sad little pat on the back for being so clever when I saw the ticket controllers pop up out of nowhere and start their surprise pre-dawn scan of the commuter’s tickets. But I have a monthly ticket. I bought it on my phone this month because they store near me no longer sells bus tickets because you can now be clever and buy it on your phone. So I pulled out my smartphone and loaded up the ticket app, waiting for the young controllers to come my way.
About three seconds before they reached me, my iPhone sputtered and died, and I thought again to myself: “Yoh, day, it’s not even seven o’ clock yet, feck off” before I retrieved my phone charger from my pocket and asked the controller to hang on a second while I tried to get it back. The bus, cleverly, has charging points, and I stuck the charger in there and waited. Nothing. It don’t work. I went to Plan C and got out my backup charger I’d just bought while the controller watched on and I provided entertainment enough for the other commuters to look up from their episodes of My Little Pony (this is really something people watch), and my stop fast approached. Nerp, charger bugging out.
The phone, in the end, never charged, I got slapped with a fine of Kr1150, and left with instructions to complain somewhere to contest it. But I know what happens when I complain. Bloody nothing, so I shall not hold my breath for a refund and will instead enjoy the pleasant surprise if it comes. The phone did charge about ten minutes after the controller left, and it turns out that app software had updated itself anyway and uninstalled the app somehow from my phone, meaning I had to call customer services to get my ticket loaded back onto my phone. It was all very delightful and did not feel at all pointless.
But it’s not the fine I’m annoyed at or the fact that the controllers bounced out of nowhere in their big bomber jackets on a morning when I’d forgotten to drink any coffee. What gets me is rather this irritating mismatched limbo place I find myself in these days wherever I go, where the lofty technological ambitions of various institutions don’t always match up to the expectations and realities of the people forced to interact with them. The ticket thing isn’t so bad and is generally quite convenient for other people with state-of-the-art phones, but there’s me, poor loser who fell down the 2011 iPhone rabbit hole and can’t seem to get out because I also lost all my money somewhere down there.
3 weeks ago I almost pissed myself trying to use a public toilet because you had to pay to use it (Oslo has a public toilet problem, and this shall not be my last rant about it) and the only way to do so was to sms a mysterious Norwegian number and then grab the toilet door in the 5 second window it actually opened. I missed the window, of course, and it locked almost immediately after it opened, leaving me and the woman who had actually paid for me to use the toilet (the service didn’t work for foreign numbers like mine), standing around wondering who was going to hold out the longest.
I’m grateful for most technological conveniences. Internet banking, remote UIF filing, even paying my traffic fines online – it’s brilliant. But so much of it is so pointlessly ambitious that it borders on deranged and it leaves those of us who just try to go about their lives paying bills, getting from A to B and trying to maintain their sanity, a little bamboozled.
If institutions could just get their shit together before they send out their branded e-mails telling you how goddamn easy it is to use their service and how there is no more excuse for your failures at life, then I’m sure it would all be OK. Not great, but OK. But they don’t! They point you in the direction of their crashed websites (City of Cape Town, I’m looking at you), instruct their call-centre staff to redirect you back to the websites and then tarnish your good name with traffic fines etc. that would have been avoided if you’d not had faith in their system in the first place. You’re a fool for your faith, you’re a goddamn fool. And it all makes you wonder how you’ll ever be able to take that step up the ladder to the next rung of adulthood. I’m thirty four and every day as each new app comes out I feel as I lose just a little more grip on the solid things that made me feel like a fucking grown up. Pay bills? Sure, I can just go to the ban- oh wait, I can just do an EF- wait no, I can do it online through your site- NO FUCK, WHAT IS THIS NEW THING I’M SUPPOSED TO USE FROM MY PHONE? I CAN’T, MY PHONE DOESN’T HAVE THE CAPACITY FOR ONE MORE APP BECAUSE MY CHILD HAS FILLED IT WITH GAMES ABOUT THAT FANTORANGEN ELEPHANT. And also he drained my battery and also I’m too poor to upgrade my phone and also I want to talk to a person who can help me please, a real person. My bank here doesn’t have people with branches or atms. I’m not sure what the bank actually does anymore.
My gym also doesn’t have any people working there and they seem to have gotten the whole automated thing down – except when something goes wrong, which is pretty possible in a gym, based on what I saw some of the people there doing the other day. But I enjoyed not having to talk to people and definitely liked signing up via the robot kiosk at the entrance, though I live in fear of the day they remove my nifty little gym card and replace it with a ‘handy’ app that comes on my phone – a device that spends more of its time in the hands of strangers trying to return it to me than my own.
I’m entirely baffled by people who love convenience apps and encourage me to download them too. Those people always have nice hairstyles and cool sneakers, it seems, or t-shirts with clever pictures or sayings on them.
Just having those convenience apps on my phone taking up space and alerting me to upgrades/updates/adverts is a massive bloody inconvenience. There is one app you can download, listed as a ‘must-have’ app on LifeHack, that tells you when a table is available for booking at your local restaurant. AN APP THAT TELLS YOU WHEN A TABLE IS OPEN FOR BOOKING AT A RESTAURANT. Even if I ate out every single day – which I don’t, because, see the 2011 iPhone comment about money earlier, I couldn’t imagine this being such a vital service as to be installed onto my phone. I can hear my hip friends groaning at me already as they update the software on their Open Table app, but you know what – you know what, MORGAN or JONAS, – those restaurants probably wouldn’t let me in anyway. So there.
These days I can no longer get any more music on my phone because the iTunes app refuses to update properly on my PC and now the PC and the phone won’t talk to each other and I’m left with Moby, Afrika Bambaataa and Deftones to listen to for the forseeable future. Which is not so bad. I don’t mind having the same music stuck in my phone – it’s minor. But when my world starts squeezing itself into my phone or onto other digital devices and society expects both parties – myself and the system I’m using – to interact smoothly, then I get worked up and ranty. When we live in cash-less, paper-less, people-less spaces and then the tech goes wrong, there’s got to be a contingency for the Frazzled and Baffled masses which I find myself to be part of. We are blunderers and question-askers, and are pretty proud that we arrived with our pants on, so expecting us to be up-to-date and hassle-free is a big ask.
There are so many upgrades to the way we interact with the world nowadays that I don’t know how the fuck anybody gets anything done. But I see them, I do, floating easily into the shops and the buses and the public institutions, gliding their phones from their sleek, empty handbags or pockets, waving them at the world in general and getting ten fucking things done in one graceful sweep of the arm. I don’t know what they’ve just bought or paid for or confirmed, and I want to know how the fuck they did it and get in on that.
I’m thirty-four. I have a friend who is ninety-two and he’s just bought himself a digital tablet in order for us to stay in contact while I’m abroad. This man constructed his own radios to get reports about the war in the forties. He fixes cars and has no problem creating and understanding things complex machinery. But today’s technology is, understandably, intimidating for him. And after trying to just move from A to B, buy groceries, pay my kid’s school fees and do the other must-dos that make up my life, I fully understand his technophobia. What if he spends a year learning how to use it only for it to change completely? He’s ninety-two, his time means a lot, and the frustration levels may well not be worth it. Already they feel too much for me.
I once had this cool vision that when I’m ninety-two, I will be living a rad hologram life that doesn’t require my body to be young or strong or fully healthy, and where I can do exciting and daring things in a big, constructed holographic world that feel thrilling and real. But I no longer dream like this because I know that in this technological utopia, I’ll be the asshole with the outdated software, glitching out as I try to fly to my group zumba class, fighting pop-up ads and antivirus updates as I slowly fizzle into cantankerous, slow-moving, fucking foul-mouthed old age that spoils it for the rest of you who apparently know how all this shit works.
I think I’ll go listen to some Moby.