TUB Talks

Appiness Is A Warm Thumb

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TUB stands for Technology User Blues, as well as the kind of thoughts that surface in the relaxing womb of a bathtub or hot tub.

We’re all aware that teenagers these days are ‘screenagers’. Playing with an Xbox, tapping their iPhone, or googling on a computer, they’re absorbed this way from dawn to bedtime. My daughter has fallen asleep mid-text, device still warm in her hand in the morning.

A friend recently asked his 18-year-old what she was doing about making her way in the world and bringing in some money. She paused briefly from her pecking, tapping, and scrolling, looked him in the eye and said:

  • ‘Get a job? Make a living?
  • Isn’t there an App for that?’

Well, there is one for just about everything else, from measuring your heartbeat and calories to identifying planets to navigating the best ski tracks. You can play Monopoly on an app, find Wally (who cares?!), and access the world’s largest catalogue of guitar and ukulele chords.

Doubtless, there are ones that promise intimate relationships (without the messy bits), but I haven’t had time to download them yet. Though perhaps I’ve confused this one with a feature available on MP3 download apps: ‘file scrubbing’. That gets the heart racing.

That’s just to whet your appetite – there are nearly a million apps available on iTunes alone.

To risk over-boggling your mind, I propose starting with three useful ones. Mine are:

  • The Torch
  • Shazam,
  • Instagram

The Torch is a blinding flash of the obvious: it may drain your battery as greedily as a vampire sucks blood, but it’s a must for finding lost car keys and cliff edges – in the dark - as well as warding off actual vampires, of course.

Shazam, surprisingly, is a British invention that has been around for over a decade. When you’re trying to recognize a piece of music in a noisy bar or restaurant, you click the icon. It tells you it’s ‘listening’, strange fans circle around, and then it announces what that elusive sound is. Naturally, it gives you the ability to tap and buy the music – fair enough, someone needs to ‘monetize’ this miraculous technology!

I first tried it out eight years ago in the back of a long taxi ride in the Spanish interior, and was mightily impressed. In our music-obsessed family, Shazam has become a direct competitor to my and my daughter’s ability to recognize the tune first. While Shazam takes about 15 seconds to make a match, on a good day we’ll get there in five. And when it fails to identify the sound, it tells you that ‘humming wasn’t identified’. Hah! We can do that. But it’s wonderful just the same . . .

Instagram . . . a nifty way of sharing photos . . . wait a minute. The problem with apps is they are very addictive. While writing this I made the mistake of telling my daughter about the Monopoly App. After all, it does all the fiddly bits like throwing the dice and counting out the money for you - those notes are so 20th Century. When Chance gives you a tax rebate, the screen shimmers with gold. I didn’t know I was bored with the board until I saw this . . . and am now similarly bored with anything as linear as this list!

What about our thumbs? Our century is meant to be the one where opposable thumbs, the ones we used in the past for physical crafts and labour, become redundant.

There’s not a whole lot of net-mending, ploughing, or carpentry for most of us to be doing as we’ve all become ‘knowledge workers’, the term management writer Peter Drucker famously invented to describe a world of brain work. Though in most jobs, ‘Data Slaves’ would be more apposite, and the Bots will soon make those who work in Data Mining as redundant as those who labored in Coal Mining.

Enter the mobile phone and the App. A whole generation of screen-agers are happily using their thumbs to operate them (ever tried using a games console or cell phone without your thumbs?)

Recent research indicates that this is the first generation to improve the size of the brain regions that link to the thumb. A slap in the face for the doom-mongers who predict it’s all sucking our childrens’ souls and giving nothing back!

Just think for a minute about how you tap your pockets with your thumbs just to check your Precious is standing by, humming and waiting for action. Not there? A small burst of panic and un-‘appiness follows. Just as Gollum seeks his Precious in his pocketses, we can only be at ease if our thumbs can locate ours.

‘Appiness is a warm thumb . . .