Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Are Friends Electric?

Last weekend, I thought that I'd finally bow to the dictates of fashion and the demands of cyber chic and buy a new mobile phone. My old model is looking decidedly clunky and more worryingly seems to have developed a fault whereby the device sometimes heats up while the battery drains at tremendous speed. I'm somewhat reluctant to get it fixed however, as popping it in my pocket affords me a cheap thrill and keeps the family jewels nice and toasty.

In any case, I soon found myself trying to cross the road in front of Mal Ambassador in order to gain access to the multimedia bun fight/cyber refugee camp contained within this retail pleasure palace. Crossing the road here, previously a nightmare, has been made easier by the addition of a proper pedestrian crossing, complete with bleeping and flashing walk/don't walk signals, possibly the first of their kind in town.

One always crosses the road at one's own risk in Jakarta of course, however this new Metropolitan innovation (only about 50 years after the things were first invented, but there you go) are surely a welcome introduction. Perhaps this will spur the city into some larger infrastructure projects. As it stands however, if a Japan style 10 metre high tsunami were to crash through Jakarta Bay at the moment, it would probably cause around Rp.50,000 of damage.

In fact, Governor Fauzi Bowo claimed this week that Jakarta's buildings would survive a major earthquake. Personally, I'd be more inclined to believe him if he’d put his money where his mouth is and gave us all a demonstration. I'd certainly enjoy seeing his moustache swaying from side to side and his panic stricken face poking out of the top floor window of an abandoned tower block as workmen worried away at the building's foundations with JCBs and the Indonesian military set off a few controlled detonations in the underground car park.

Anyway my little Wikileakers, after wading through monkeys on leashes and a phalanx of ojeg drivers buzzing hard on Red Bull, I finally made it into the plaza. Fantastically cheap devices have now put the wired world within nearly every Indonesian’s grasp, and I guess we have China and its discounted digital products to thank for this. Certainly Indonesia hasn't reached the same level of Sino semiconductor Savvy just yet. In fact, as I strolled through the rows of shops all selling Rp.500,000 Chinese Nexians, I had a vision of a similarly priced Indonesian device the size of a dictionary, bound in a teak and batik casing and coming with a hands-free device resembling the headphones from a B-52 bomber.

No matter. They may not make 'em here but they certainly know how to use ‘em (sometimes to the exclusion of more pressing concerns, such as not driving into a canal). The Plaza was crowded with Sunday shoppers and the mobile phone stores in particular were awash with handset pumping customers and salesmen. In fact it proved impossible to tell one from the other. Where will all this button pushing end I wonder? Will we achieve a utopian, technological so-called "singularity" or is our touchscreen, silicon world just so much mental morphine taking our minds off the imminent collapse of the planet. Is there nothing of substance behind the technological smoke and mirrors? Or will we pull open the curtains on the whole dazzling spectacle, like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, only to be confronted with some senile old fart sitting there pulling a few levers?

Ah well, if you can't beat them. I eventually plumped for one of those new Android phones so that I could enjoy a wealth of apps, without being an Apple sap. There was one application in particular that I was most keen to get my hands on. RunPee Mobile shows just how deeply one can immerse oneself in the mobile life these days. Basically, if you are watching a movie in the cinema and get caught short, this application will give you a time linked synopsis of any plot developments taking place on the screen whilst you're draining your spuds in the cinema toilets. Bloody ridiculous. Although, if Hollywood films really do disappear from local theatres, as has been threatened, then I guess that you could just sit at home with your mobile and read the entire synopsis feed as an alternative to actually watching the damn thing. You'd be saving yourself Rp.25,000 and you could take a piss whenever you wanted into the bargain.

And so I bought my Android phone and, over the next few days, became engrossed in its infinite ocean of possibilities playing out across circuits more powerful than an 80s supercomputer. I've now crossed the critical threshold folks, like so many Jakartans before me have. A line of digital delineation has been traversed, beyond which it is impossible to switch the damn thing off. In fact, our computers will more than likely end up switching us off.

Applications that I am currently searching for online include a call-to-prayer hands-free noise cancellation processing app and a GPS linked Jakarta taxi meter app that'll tell me if the driver's digital display is galloping faster than necessary. Ultimately, I'm hoping to track down an application that will enable me to wire my mobile up to my office computer and telephone and do my job for me while I slide off down the pub. Come on Google and all you app developers. I've thrown down the gauntlet.