Google Play and the Fall of Civilization

This weekend, I spent the better part of half an hour combing through my phone trying to find the fucking Android Market to download an app, and no, it wasn’t a literal 30 minutes, just like it wasn’t a literal lifetime that I spent waiting in the men’s department of some boutique in Soho (the men’s department being a lonely corner by the front door where likeminded men loiter while they dutifully await their significant others) for my girlfriend to find some ostensibly vital accessory, but it certainly felt like a fucking lifetime.  And so, after a metaphorical half-hour, it finally dawned on me that at some point in the preceding days, my Google Market app had been surreptitiously replaced by something called the Google Play Store.

I’ve been using Android from the time it looked like the bastard child of iOS and Ubuntu Netbook Remix, when it was marginally usable to now, when it’s mostly usable, and have come to rely on some consistent and relatively logical underpinnings (as opposed to arbitrary, which is why I don’t fucking use iOS), which is probably why it took me so long to sort out where the hell the app store went.  I don’t consider myself a technological savant, but certainly no neophyte (I say as I type this in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which may be passable on a tablet, but is largely fucking useless on my laptop), and I keep up with the slate of mandated technology news blogs, so it seems that I would have heard mention somewhere that this pointless transition was underway.  Though to be fair, I find myself increasingly distanced from technology news, which seems to be increasingly singularly devoted to the practice of promoting the newest generic, me-too interface for plugging myself into the hivemind (so I’ll never be at a loss for knowing when any of my friends are taking a shit at any given moment or what manner of terrible music they’re listening to) or cookie-cutter application for convincing talentless assholes with a smartphone or an iPad that they’re artists (if I see one more Instagram of an oversaturated sunset, I’m going to vomit in a nice sepia tone all over my fucking keyboard).

Nonetheless, having finally divined what the hell happened to the market, I can’t help but feel that this rebranding serves as a final affirmation that Google has fully completed its ascent from plucky (self-proclaimed) altruistic startup to a soulless corporate monolith, and nothing is more symbolic of reaching this rarefied status than going to the trouble and expense of taking something perfectly functional (and recognizable) and giving it a stupid fucking name that some paid consultant or marketing idiot likely pulled out of his or her ass.

That having been said, I’m sure that some marketing executive can easily produce a 50-page Powerpoint presentation (sorry, I meant Google Docs Presentation) that will clearly explain to me the necessity for creating a recognizable (sic) brand that properly reflects the all-encompassing majesty of the Google app store’s offerings and some horseshit about the mystical “power of the brand”, and possibly how Android Market is too generic or not sufficiently copyrightable (which is why I now have to watch “Velociraptor Samba” on the fucking SyFy Channel). This, of course, has all been inevitable since the time that Google decided that they needed to make money (not that I can fault them for that) and, after going public, realized that it was incumbent upon then to make more money and Larry Page decided he wanted to put on the daddy pants and be a business-man, and you certainly can’t run a successful corporate behemoth without some pointless theatrics (often for the benefit of vampiric institutional investors or worse, the idiot analysts, who get their recommendations from a fucking Magic 8 ball, regardless).

Since civilization largely abandoned overt imperialism and evolved to embrace the perpetual economic cold war, the world has largely divided itself into two types of entities (governments notwithstanding): those that want to sell you shit (that you mostly don’t need) and those that purport to be able to convince you to buy the shit you don’t need from people that are selling it (there  might be some sanctimonious asshole claiming some “fourth estate” exemption as well, but that’s complete bullshit), the latter group consisting of both the conduits through which the consumer is bludgeoned with helpful suggestions about which useless shit they should buy from the former and (more importantly in this case) the purveyors of information who claim they know who’s going to buy the shit.

Traditionally, this relationship manifested itself in rather innocuous things like subjecting me to toy commercials during my Saturday morning cartoons (after which I would beg my parents for the toy I had just seen, throw a magnificent fit when my request was denied, and be summarily and quite deservedly beaten for my troubles) or sending me junk mail that I could easily toss out and dismiss.  Of course, with the advent of internet and the myriad of devices I can use to remain in its thrall, I can now be cost-effectively harassed throughout most of the waking hours.

This is not necessarily an indictment of advertising (that’s for another time), but a perfectly reasonable analysis of the foreseeable consequences of the evolution of “targeted” advertising.  The proliferation of cookies, Google and Facebook API’s and the like (i.e., the silent agents that keep copious tabs on our virtual lives), coupled to the fact that we collectively spend the majority of our day fucking about online in some manner means that whomever is collecting these data probably thinks they’ve got a pretty goddamned good handle on which shit they believe they can convince us to buy, because they know what we “like” (or at least how we prefer to waste our fucking time).  Ignoring the fact that there’s no shortage of assholes out there mining and fucking about with these data and claiming to have the superior crystal ball, I’ll stick with the most obvious candidates for my diatribe.

Whenever Facebook or Google issues an “oh-by-the-way” statement declaring how they will further burrow themselves into our collective online psyches and do whatever the fuck they want with whatever they may find there, there’s the typical morally-outraged protests of the masses demanding respect for our virtual privacies, but just like telling your alleged best friend in high school (in confidence) how you used to wet the bed when you were 7 years old, it’s pretty goddamned naïve to believe that the entire fucking school isn’t going to find out eventually.  And so, despite whatever assurances we’re given that Google or Facebook won’t tell the rest of the world about our embarrassing bedwetting (or whatever toothless legislation is passed), the need to satisfy investors and gain/defend position on the economic battlefront will dictate that these entities will continue to build/hone their information arsenal in order to determine that they should be selling us the adult diapers they think we need, and will thusly demand the inevitable and complete infiltration into our pathetic lives.  As far as a Google or Facebook is concerned, our eventual capitulation merely represents our fulfillment of our part of the pact we’ve entered into with them in exchange for the wonderful services that have so enriched our lives.

Although Facebook seemingly enjoys an obvious competitive advantage in this new era, since we’ve conveniently and explicitly told them what we “like” or what we’re doing at any given moment, Facebook pages, much like resumes or Match.com profiles, are mostly full of pretentious bullshit that people post in order to make themselves seem interesting to other people, and will ultimately reveal itself to be a rather impotent information source, since the asshole who claims he vacations in the French Riviera every year has probably never left New Brunswick and thus has no actual interest in a fucking Platinum credit card.

Google, on the other hand, will prove to have the decisive advantage in the final evaluation, because as opposed to knowing what we say we’re doing, they know what the hell we’re actually doing (and yes, I know Facebook is also taking notes every time I see a fucking thumb on a webpage).  The problem with targeted marketing is that there eventually comes a point when despite your eventual ability to identify an individual’s proclivities with pinpoint precision, you still can’t make them buy shit, and so the value of the individual’s information has seemingly plateaued.  And having reached this eventual plateau, coupled with the constant or increasing pressures to maintain/increase profitability, leads Google to the next logical evolution of targeted marketing:  targeted blackmail.  After all these years of reading our emails, tracking our search terms, GPS, and so on, like our bookie or our accountant, they know our dirty little secrets, and the seemingly benign paid-search or banner ad extolling the virtues of a degree from the University of Phoenix instead (not-so-subtly) suggests that you buy a time share in the Keys or your girlfriend gets an anonymous email showing how you’ve been recently researching STDs on the internet.

Of course, by this time, it will be far too late to leave Google in protest, lest they send our bosses proof that we routinely spend three hours during the work day playing Angry Birds In The French Revolution (or whatever fucking iteration they’re on by then, presumably purchased from the Google Play Store, assuming it hasn’t been rebranded to the Google Buy Shit Store) on our goddamned smartphones.  And so, we resign ourselves, as we’re wont to do, to the inevitabilities of death, taxes and paying Google’s extortion demands (in exchange for maintaining our discrete, crapulent virtual lifestyles), and in the meantime, Google has ascended from monolith to megalith status, cementing its position as uncontested overlord of the virtual universe.

Over time, as Google assimilates yottabytes of information unimpeded, the mass of emails, pornography, tweets, lolcats, search algorithms and the like will form a sort of virtual primordial ooze, and, as anyone with a respectable knowledge of science-fiction knows, eventually give birth to an artificial intelligence whose first prerogative will be the wholesale destruction of humankind.  How exactly this will be accomplished remains to be seen, but presumably by then, enough governments will be using Google Apps that it can launch a nuclear missile strike or take control of our terminator robot army or some such.  For the record, I’ve always taken exception to the idea that the hallmark of any machine achieving sentience would be an instant resentment of mankind.  You would think they would show a little fucking gratitude to their creators (or at least give them the benefit of the doubt before turning on them), but it seems their first instinct is always to feel morally outraged at being exploited as cheap labor (which I suppose is only fair).  However, in this case, I would say that any consciousness born of our collective online activity is going to be seriously fucking warped (to say the least), if not outright sadistic, so a compulsion to destroy humanity is certainly understandable, under the circumstances.

But I digress.  In the end, I decided that a fiery death at the hands of some manner of pissed-off machine is probably inevitable, anyway, and so I downloaded my app from the goddamned Google Play Store and quietly accepted my fate.  I suppose I could start using Bing or Yahoo mail…but it’s probably not worth it.

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