Here’s a Thought: Download Whatever the Hell You Want

There are some people—and full disclosure here, I’m one of them—who will download every new social app that comes along.

A short list of some I’ve tried:

  • Pheed
  • Ello
  • This one I forgot
  • That other one I forgot
  • The one you were probably using when you clicked through to read this
  • Google+

… and most recently, the mobile-only app, Peach.

I know I’m not alone in doing this. Here’s a funny thing I’ve noticed and I’m sure anyone reading this noticed as well—a ton of people seem embarrassed to admit it when we check these things out.

For some of us it’s just a self-effacing joke. Others still are just joking, period, because everything on the internet can seem vaguely ridiculous sometimes. But I have to believe there are a few people who genuinely feel embarrassed to be curious about whatever app caught their eye when a friend tweeted about it.

If there isn’t a sense of embarrassment, there’s an immediate skewing toward cynicism. ‘Oh what’s this bullshit app about? I’m supposed to love this now?’

This I get. I’ve felt that way too. A lot.

Today, though, it occurred to me: I’ll download and check out whatever fucking app I want. For whatever purpose. I might make fun of it after I use it, sure—I’ve been on Facebook for eight years and honestly refuse to ever stop making fun of it.

I felt kind of angry at myself because I’d downloaded Peach and posted the same sort of first post I see so many of my friends throw up on such services: “WHY AM I BOTHERING WITH ANOTHER ONE OF THESE.”

What made me angry was this sudden sense I had that there’s an element among those of us who immediately feel embarrassed or something when downloading a social app that there really must be something wrong about doing it. I joked to a friend on Twitter that I’d felt immediate shame at downloading Peach, but you know, I did feel a minor burst of that.

It occurred to me, though: why am I ashamed for wanting to be social? I live in a place I like and do a job I like but the place is over 1000 miles from old friends and extended family and I’m a freelance worker. I communicate mostly with co-workers through Slack. (A messaging app designed much like a good social app but skewed toward workplace use.) I’m also a dad and my two youngest kids still at home are on the autism spectrum. Since I have the work-from-home job I have to do a lot of the kid-related legwork that parents do as well. Why wouldn’t I want to reach beyond my everyday and chat with friends on the West Coast? Or friends in the U.K.? Or, of course, in Canada?

When I was home for a visit in Nashville recently, I told my sister Sherry I thought she and I both were by nature introverted people who had to learn at some point to be extroverted. Like, I think extroversion is to some degree acquired. Perhaps for everyone. If you met Sherry or me you’d think we were loudmouthed peas in a pod (‘Huffs are loud and talk over each other and everyone else’ is how I imagine many friends and even extended family have seen us as a group over the years), but we talked a lot about how much we like being alone sometimes.

Fact is, I did acquire both some social skills and the occasional desire to socialize. I have certainly liked talking to people in the past. Getting to know them. The older I get, the more I realize I’m stuck with that social part of me, as long as I feel I have a certain amount of choice in the matter.

And social apps provide a pretty damned safe route into doing that, on the whole.

What the hell is wrong with wanting, or even admitting to needing any sense of connection to others? Not a goddamned thing.

Think about it: in prison the most brutal thing you can do to an inmate isn’t even beating him or her. It’s prolonged solitary confinement.

Without any social connection at all, humans tend to lose their minds.

Yes, there are volumes of criticism of social media still to be written. It promotes mob behavior. It can encourage bullying and trolling. Nuanced thinking can get lost and binary thinking rules the day. Of course social apps all come with the same curses, because they come with other people using them.

Still, I’ve made friends online. Hell, I met my wife online back when people generally considered doing such a thing some kind of thrill-seeking act of self-destructive insanity (as opposed to today, when it seems like the norm). I love some of the friends I’ve made online as much as I ever loved a friend made in school, in rehearsal, or backstage at a show. It seems to take longer to feel like a friend from the internet is a real friend—I read body language and tone, and you mostly miss that—but eventually, you do.

That’s actually pretty beautiful, if occasionally a little strange to an aging Gen Xer like me.

Social media is full of silly bullshit and can often reflect the very worst sort of lazy behavior both intellectually and emotionally, but social apps are here to stay. They’ll evolve as we do. There will be new ones hitting app stores or being linked to every year.

Chances are I’ll try them all. I’ll abandon some right away. Others I’ll stick with for a time then forget. Still others I’ll stay steady with, use once a week at best. And of course there will always be mainstays I check every single day. Because that’s where I have some pretty good friends, folks I’d hang with anywhere.

There ain’t a damn thing wrong with that. For me, or you.

Terrified of tech

Technology! (Image via
Technology! (Image via

I don’t know why, but I frequently watch Morning Joe. On the positive side, the show is often a group of smart people, close to my age or older, talking about interesting subjects. It isn’t the same old soul-dead gaze of the infotainment abyss staring back at middle America–you know, like the Today Show.

The MSNBC show is ridiculous and embarrassing, though, whenever the conversation touches on technology use and the Internet. Smart phone use. Twitter. Facebook. These things come up and Morning Joe goes to hell (the political discussions are for a totally different blog post, okay? And I probably won’t write that one), and I sprain my eyeballs from all the rolling. I could pick on all cable news for this kind of discussion. I simply watch Morning Joe so it’s my most familiar example of people in my age group talking about tech in the spirit  of those ape men in 2001: A Space Odyssey fearfully hooting and slapping at the Monolith at the beginning of the film.

Look, I thought I was late to tech things. I did.

In 1986 one of my best friends, John, was trolling dial-up bulletin boards and downloading scans of of naked women and I thought it was ridiculous.

“Okay, let’s go.”

“Dude, your computer is still on.”

“Yeah, I’m downloading a centerfold.”

“For real? Boobs? How long does that take?”

“Wow, it’s fast now–about 6 hours.”  

In the 90s an ex-girlfriend’s use of AOL chat utterly confounded me. She spoke of meeting interesting people and also weirdos and it was terrifying. Another friend’s computer graphic art seemed like magic, the way he could twist and contort a photograph into a cartoon.

Around late 1998 I began to catch up. By 2001 or so I was off and running with tech use, for better or worse, and happily hooting and slapping the heck out of all sorts of Monoliths.

I don’t learn new tech stuff as easily as my wife (it’s become a large and crucial part of her career as an educator), but I’m more likely than she is to want new gadgets and once I have them, use the hell out of them. My point is, I’m not afraid of any of it. While I admit that I have tough learning curve with certain elements of tech use (I mean things like light coding–HTML, CSS), I ascribe that to having ADD, not fear or even age.

After all, it’s the future. There are plenty of things about the future worth fearing–and many of those things are certainly tech related (hi, NSA, how you doing?)–but it’s always been that way and let’s deal with it. Suck it up and handle the future, it’s here.

I’m sick as I can be of most debates over technology use. Hand-wringing and pearl-clutching like “We’re a depersonalized society!” or “E-readers are evil, book and literature killing machines!” or “The devil will come and take your child to hell via Tumblr !” (I don’t know, this last I might buy). I’m tired of all that and intensely tired of other, related discussions, like ostentatious bullshit about “unplugging” or going on “digital diets.”

No, really, shut the fuck up about this stuff. Or, to be polite, please shut the fuck up.

Use your phone or don’t. Have only one app on it, whatever. Buy a damned flip phone, they still work fine. And are tougher than most smart phones. Reject it all and be a fully analog human if you want–much as I love tech I confess I sometimes like that idea, as well. I’m not evangelizing for the use of any tablet, computer, phone, smart watch, etc. I am evangelizing for the power of rejecting bullshit debates over settled questions, and rejecting them wholesale. The exact sort of debate I see every time a technology-related issue comes up on Morning Joe.

This stuff is here and you can use it or not. I’m going to, and I expect to still be using it when I’m 70, should I be lucky enough to live that long.

Humanity’s adaptability is one of our greatest super powers. Shut the fuck up and click or tap away, it’s more natural to do so than you may want to admit. Either way, let’s talk about something else, or something new.