iPhone Social Network: iPhone Killer App Edition


I remember when Bank of America introduced the first ATM. I moved my account to the bank with the Versateller because it was one less place I had to talk to people. It was slow, and it was monochrome, and it took much longer than walking in the bank, but I didn't have to talk to anyone. I know the bank teller doesn't care how my day is when he or she asks, and I certainly don't care about his or her day. I don't want to make small talk with them while they are waiting for the computer to process the data and the forced smiles were getting kind of old. No more "How's the family" from the gas guy? Great news to me. The feigned interest could be the repellent, but I really think I just don't like people. It's certainly not genetic. My grandfather had "girls" at banks, and cleaners and all those other places you visit on a regular basis who would greet him, and talk, and because he was a such a great guy, they really cared about him. Some even baked cookies. While he expanded his universe of casual, smile and waive slightly more than acquaintances in the physical world, I, and many like me moved them on line where our networks grow like a series of festering boils in virtual places like facebook, myspace, linked in, World of Warcraft and too many others to name.

The joy of the Versateller and urge to move closer to what I didn't even know was the Matrix, made it so easy, and compelling, to move on to The Source through my Apple ][ e at 1200 baud. There were people out there, and I was able to communicate with them without even having to talk. I didn't have to smile, I didn't have to look at them, I didn't even have to put pants on. The on line world only grew and each technological innovation moved me further and further from direct human communication and more dependent on machine intermediated communication. I went from text to graphics with The Palace and Worlds 1.0. With the advent of Amazon and the birth of CRM I did not even have to worry about humans making suggestions. The machine was able to figure out what I would like and recommend it. Gamespy was able to match me with other players, so I did not even have to know who they were, or invite them. In the real world this process of befriending a human being is referred to as "opting in." It means you have to make a friendly approach and listen to the response, while respecting their rule set. I was never good at that sort thing. You know, authority issues, arrogance, self centered and all. Yet another set of social cues the computer let me ignore. Finally, we got to the point where social networks let me have friends only because they are on line. People call themselves your friend even though they won't even send an ecard on your birthday. They don't even know your birthday and in many cases, couldn't pick you out of a line up. Conversely, you don't have to remember their birthday and you don't have to console them when their cat dies. It may sound hollow to the uninitiated, but these people don't get it. They still talk to bank tellers. Just as I grow more and more comfortable in my anonymous cocoon, protected by the hardened mucous layered upon me by years of computer mediated communication with the world, iPhone stands poised to destroy it all.

iPhone apps appear to be a great success. According to the Wall Street Journal, Steve Jobs said Apple distributed 30 million apps and made USD 60 million in the first month after launch. It sounds like people are hungry for them. And while the Versateller ushered in an exciting new age where thoughts were translated to bits for soundless, effortless, faceless communication, the iPhone drives people to talk to each other. I can't be the only one who sat down at a conference room table only to be "entertained" by a proud consumer sharing the latest iPhone app with the table as if they were displaying baby pictures. The only difference, is I have never found myself wanting someone else's baby.

For years, trading card companies and all manner of collectible companies cater to the human nature of collecting and showing off. Every time you hear an ad proclaim "collect them all" it is a call to this innate human instinct. You want the thing you don't have, and once you have it, you want to let everyone else no you have it - and they still don't. iPhone caters to this instinct. When the app store opened, people dove in to "dress their babies." They wanted their new toy to do new tricks, and here was a whole playground. Once they found a giggle inducing app, they felt a compelling need to share it. Fortunately, the iPhone's form factor is perfect for sharing. Instead of an anonymous linked in invitation, the iPhone forces the user to look across the table at someone, and talk to them. They give a live demo of the app. It would be no fun, and pointless unless you are actually in the room. This phenomenon is the first live social interaction driven by a computer since, well, since the computer (but you couldn't fit an Apple ][ running Visicalc in you pocket). Even cell phones themselves move us from talking to the people in visual proximity, to talking to people far away. The display of the apps run all the way from someone saying look at the light saber - which everyone already has anyway - to rehearsed patters surrounding the roaming cockroach or woman with the squeegee cleaning the inside of the screen. I even saw a magician at the Magic Castle do a little "trick" around ipint, as he faux drank his virtual beer. I know, it's not a trick, but there is no distinction between good technology and magic.

I won't necessarily - strike that - I will never be the one who proudly pulls an iPhone out of my pocket to share the latest big game landed by me, the great app hunter. I do use my iPhone to talk, but only to people I don't see in the room. I do find some humor and comfort in the iPhone's killer app and most unique attribute happens to be the return of one established thousands of years ago.





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