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The Right to Inconvenience

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A recent Washington Post article discussed at length changes coming to Apple’s new operating systems. Described as user-friendly and integrated, Apple’s latest operating system will, among other things, bring Siri voice commands to the desktop, organise photos using facial recognition, suggest relevant emojis in text conversations, and generally underpin the user experience with artificial intelligence. Sold as a seamless and integrated solution to “app fatigue”, Apple aims to give consumers what they apparently desire: absolute convenience.

Putting aside various privacy concerns and questions around how Apple and third parties store voice data (and for how long), a sharp loss of control over our devices and data is routinely being sold to us, under the guise of easy convenience. Do consumers still control the devices they are meant to own? Is it still possible to choose the inconvenient way?

Yes, currently, this choice does still seem possible. Currently, it remains possible to organise photos manually, instead of by person and face (although it is possible the photos are still run through Apple’s automatic facial recognition system). Likewise, it remains possible to decline the use of an overzealous emoji when expressing outrage at Labour’s shameful silence on the Investigatory Powers Bill over text conversation with a friend.

But what about in Apple’s next operating system? Have you ever tried to pay cash when getting on a bus or opt out of having your photo taken at your gym registry or send a fax in London? In the name of progress, these technologies, which are in fact choices, fade. Luckily few people miss faxing. But people will miss being able to opt out of facial recognition software. People will miss being able to surf the internet anonymously and purchase products with cash. And people will miss being able to have a personal conversation over text without Apple suggesting an array of sad emojis.

You see, this frictionless world that technology companies suggest is the utopian future we should all desire, actually represents a slow encroachment on our ability to choose, and highlights our lack of control. Do we, as a human society, not have the right to struggle, the right to be uncomfortable, and for our interactions with technology to be un-seamless? Is our absolute desire to eliminate all friction from our lives, once and for all? Surely a life of convenience and frictionless splendour will lead to the slow death of innovation and progress. Friction, randomness, and obscurity force evolution and progress.

Defaulting to a life of comfort, sameness, and a corporate integration and stagnation not only sounds boring, it sounds utterly corrosive.