Brave New Apps

I’m THIS CLOSE to going out and getting an iphone.  I’ve contacted my tech-savvy friend Dejan to be my sherpa, and am planning an expedition to the Apple Store maybe as early as next week.

I feel it’s been long enough on the market that getting one won’t make me look like an “early adapter” (basically techie for “fashion victim”), but not so long I’ll be labeled a Luddite for holding out.  For the record, I’m not a Luddite.  I just don’t like to be rushed.  I’m not the kind of person anyone expects to have new and flashy things anyway, and once you start down that road — the only thing you can be absolutely sure of is: it’s going to be a very expensive trip.

But here we are, in 2009.  We’re on the G3S, and increasingly it seems there’s almost nothing iphones can’t do.  Whatever it is there’s an app for it.

It took Grindr, a “location-based social networking tool”… for guys only, to really pique my interest.  According to the website…

It utilizes your iPhone or iPod Touch’s built-in technology to map out which guys are closest to you—but how much info you share with them is entirely up to you. There is no need to enter an email address, register an account, or go through a complicated validation process. No electronic trail is left behind. Simply download the Grindr app to view who’s around and start chatting with a local dude. Trade your stats, show off a photo, instant message any guy you like. Share your location on a map and make plans to meet up right away. Or just browse the local scene. Grindr keeps things uncomplicated.

And I want to get there before all the other trolls do!  They’re on their way, trust me.  Now that they’ve been forcibly driven from their swampy nesting grounds by increased police patrols.  They have to go somewhere.  And the online “scene” is tapped out.  Every time I visit Manhunt or Gaydar these days it’s like a virtual zombie attack in a geriatrics ward.  Apple should get to work on a troll-repellent app now, before it’s too late.

But honestly, the vague possibility of a high-tech hook-up is just not enough incentive for me to go out and buy anything.  Despite conventional wisdom, sex doesn’t always sell.  Especially when you’ve had it recently enough to know what it’s all too often like, *sigh*.

It took seeing the creative applications of the technology to really entice me.  I’ve become mildly intrigued by iphone photography, especially shots using a Polaroid app called Shakeit that gives results that really look like Polaroids, with that same sense of both spontaneity and stasis that makes a Polaroid a Polaroid…

See more here.

Polaroids, because they came along when the developing process was more time-consuming than today, had the feel of found objects.  But because of the chemical process that produced them, they also had a trapped-in-amber quality.  They end up looking nothing like things really look, but somehow feeling precisely how they feel.

They lent a whole new freedom to photography, paving the way for its true democratization — or just sheer ubiquity, however you want to look at it — under the digital regime.

Of course the interesting thing about the iphone Polaroid app is that it’s not really a Polaroid, although it’s a damn good imitation.  It’s a metaPolaroid.  But it makes you wonder if we can feel the same about it as we would a real one.  Or if feeling the same should be the point.  And if it’s not the point, what is the point?

Of course, there doesn’t have to be a point, but the kinds of people who use this app probably have one.  For some it will be nostalgia, pure and simple — a tribute to something past that seems to embody the past itself — which is always, by definition, more innocent, purer, always fading, always softer, warmer than the moment we inhabit.

For others it’ll be more technical.  That odd postmodern pastime of seeing how perfectly we can reconstruct something authentic while maintaining that critical ironic distance from it. Just as a hipster doesn’t want to be mistaken for actual white-trash, an iphone Polaroid loses some of its magic if it’s mistaken for an actual Polaroid.  But the idea is to look so much like a real one it could be, until something — some little je ne sais quoi — tells you it’s not.

Is it because we are building the virtual world of the future based on our love for another virtual world — the past? We’re still clinging to the distinction between what’s real and what’s an ironic reflection, but when the virtual colonization of the actual is complete, there likely won’t be any need.  When identity as we know it disappears, there will be no need of irony, which allows us to subvert it in the first place.

The virtual has certain appeals to creatures like us whose consciousness of our individuality outstrips our individuality.  Eventually it’ll be a moot point.  But it’s understandable that we still cling to the illusion of difference even as everywhere we struggle to distinguish ourselves by imitation.  We don’t admire essence so much as quintessence.  When we locate the sublime we immediately set about replicating it.  (Elaine Scarry’s  On Beauty and Being Just is an excellent source of insight on this.)

It’s becoming obvious that our spectacular success as a species is not due to either our isolated egos or our agility with memes, but to both, and to the illusion that history points to the eventual convergence of the two.  This illusion is the motor of Virtual Reality, which allows us to disappear completely into alternate selves for whom identity is the mastery of a discrete repertoire of motions in pursuit of the perfect score.

iphone apps like Grindr, it seems to me, merely push the virtual colonization of the actual a little further in space, with apps like Shakeit tackling time.  I guess I don’t mind, as long as I can use ’em in some combination to make trashy softcore porn like Andy Warhol.  I mean, come on, they’ve got Beatles: Rock BandWarhol’s Factory can’t be far behind.

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