Last month was the first time I heard of Facebook's latest messenger app -- that insidiously diabolical technological advancement which virtually everyone seemed to loathe from day one. At the time, Facebook's transition to the new messenger looked rather grim, as users cited privacy concerns and complained of being forced into downloading the app if they were to continue sending ever-important messages via their mobile devices (although whether or not one can actually be "forced" into downloading an app remains up for debate).
I hadn't given the messenger app much thought since then, largely because I never considered downloading it in the first place. I'm already drowning in messenger apps on my devices; it's exhausting just considering the litany: Gchat, iChat, WhatsApp, Skype messenger and, least sexy of all, the standard text message. I even have a walkie-talkie app called Voxer, just in case I want to pretend I'm lost in the Vietnam bush circa 1969 and the Viet Cong's closing in (a fantasy which inevitably ends when I apply a little tech savvy via my iTranslate app, ask the locals for directions in broken Vietnamese, am eventually guided to the nearest fan boat out of town and finally -- with a smile -- am presented with a voucher for a complimentary weekend stay at the Hanoi Hilton the next time I'm in town). Truthfully, each time I receive a Voxer message I pretend I'm Willem Dafoe in Platoon. Unfortunately, despite all the wishing in the world, as of today Tom Berenger has not called in an airstrike and put me out of my misery.
It wasn't until a few days ago that the Facebook messenger app again entered my consciousness. This time it was after seeing new headlines concerning the app's spyware and reading an article on motherboard.com reporting that, according to internet security expert, Jonathan Zdziarski, "messenger appears to have more spyware-type code in it intended specifically for enterprise surveillance."
Hence, considering the reports in August and the reports from a few days ago, I could only logically conclude that the Facebook messenger app was indeed a complete bust, guilty of not only spying but also being inflexible and inconvenient, not to mention the equivalent of arm wrestling users into hitting the download button to boot. Case closed. The people have spoken and they have chosen one of seventy-two other messaging apps in a collective F-U to Facebook.
Paradoxically, when I checked the list of top downloaded free apps on iTunes a moment later, despite receiving a paltry one-and-a-half star feedback rating, the Facebook messenger app was number one, having been downloaded over 500 million times. As you might imagine, I detected a contradiction afoot. Publicly decrying an app and then downloading it half a billion times often sends a less-than-decisive, arguably mixed message. One might even suggest that doing so essentially conveys, "We hate the app with a true passion, but c'mon, is anyone seriously suggesting verbal communication as an alternative?"
So, apparently, the messenger app is bad -- really bad, in fact. But perhaps because we're all used to living with disappointment in every other aspect of our lives, we're willing to settle for something that is not only bad, but perhaps also not in out best interest, so long as it ensures uninterrupted communication with people we probably barely know in the first place.
At first I was a bit disappointed that a majority didn't exercise their collective power as consumers and cause the messenger app to be a miserable failure. It could have been the greatest display of consumer solidarity since the abysmal failure that was Robin Thicke's latest album (although if we're being honest, it was never really going to take a village to make that happen). Nevertheless, I might be even more disappointed with Facebook.
So many companies are already utilizing the standard 'Big Brother' shtick, it almost seems overly passive, uninspired and just plain lazy. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and in the case of the Facebook messenger app, they may have undershot completely.
Facebook wants to release an inconvenient and intrusive app? Fine. Be intrusive. Be damn intrusive and outright creepy, in fact. But at least give us something with tangible benefits, something we can use.
Why didn't they roll out their lousy messenger app with a mind-blowing physical intervention app?
Each time someone attempts to send a follow-up request (you get the first one free) from one of those insufferable games like Farmville, a large mallet extends out of their computer's monitor or phone's screen and obliterates one of the requester's fingers. Afterward, the app could send the intended requestee a picture of the smashed appendage.
Or, when you're about to troll your exes on Facebook after ingesting massive quantities of unmentionable substances (or even do so stone sober, if you prefer) a hand slaps you square in the face as the voice of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey informs you, "It's time to move on." Before you realize what's happening, you're handed a pint of Ben and Jerry's laced with a sedative and HAL then instructs you to, "Take this. Call me in the morning."
Or perhaps, to keep hashtag overuse to a dull roar, compulsive hashtaggers will unexpectedly find their computers or phones bursting into flames (without harming anyone in the process, of course) whenever they exceed their allotted amount (deemed ample by all emotionally stable consenting adults) of hashtags for the year. They could receive an email shortly thereafter with a subject line -- #usethehashtagwiselydummy.
But I'm just tossing out semi-formulated ideas for you, Facebook. Feel free to let your imagination flourish -- locusts, cholera, the black plague, etc. Just don't make it something uninspired.
In all sincerity, I'll never understand why we don't give Facebook and other corporations the proverbial finger in unison -- and feel good about doing it -- especially when it involves a new app which everyone seemingly hates and numerous questions and concerns regarding one's privacy exist. Sadly, it seems to be a trend in everything from consumerism, to politics, to personal relationships.
One of the best lines from the season two premier of Orange is the New Black comes when a plane full of inmates heading to an undisclosed location attempts to discern what part of the country they are flying over. Upon spotting a mountain, one concludes, "I think we're in the Midwest." "There's no mountains in the Midwest," retorts another. "Just corn. And plains. And a sh*tload of white people who don't vote in their best interests."
If only it were a phenomenon uniquely affecting the Midwest.