|iPhone apps, CC-BY|
by Peggy Robin
Earlier this week I tried to use 311dc.gov to report a missed recycling pickup. I filled out the online form and clicked “submit” but nothing happened. I closed the tab, opened a new one, and tried again. Same result. Then I tried calling 311. I got a “fast busy” signal, not the typical sound that indicates that all the lines are actually engaged but the sort that signals something wrong with the system. So I looked around on the 311 website and found that there was yet another way to report a problem, and that was via the 311DC smartphone app. I downloaded it, signed in, and filled out the report on the missed pickup, and this time it went through. The next day the recycling truck came by and picked up the recycling. A success story, right?
Not by me. I find myself annoyed at this trend of needing to use an app for things that used to be doable via a website or actual telephone contact with a real person. Another example: A few months ago my car battery died. It was old, well past its expected expiration date, and just needed to be replaced, but in the meantime I needed a jumpstart. The car was sitting in my driveway. I have Geico, which includes free road service, so I went upstairs to my computer, went to the Geico website, and looked for a way to request the jumpstart service. After rooting around various tabs on the site, I discovered the roadside assistance program has essentially been moved over to the Geico app. That seemed to be the only way to get them. And that meant I needed to download the app to my smartphone, create a log-on, and then follow the prompts to request the service. It took me a bit of time fumbling around to complete all the steps. Once I had done that, I could request the jump and get a predicted arrival time – no more than 30 minutes, I learned via the app's response. The guy actually arrived within ten minutes -- about the same time it took me to figure out how to get, install, and use the app.
Then there’s Uber. Sure, it's great to be able to have a car appear when needed, but it's just an app and nothing more. Same for Car2Go. I have had online banking for years and years, but the most useful thing --camera-deposited-checks-- can only be done through the bank's phone app. These are good things and you'd think I'd be glad to have them.... and yet I'm uneasy. I guess I'm left wondering how many other things I used to be able to do by computer will turn into app-only processes. Eventually, will we all be tapping on our glass screens to fill out birth certificates to death certificates and everything in between? And why does it seem like something of a loss to have to type on a little glass screen instead of a full-size keyboard? Next thing you know, I'll be waxing nostalgic about standing in line and filling out forms with carbon copies. That does sound ridiculous, and yet, I can't get over the feeling that something more real is being replaced by something less real....and I'm not too appy about that.
Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.