My recent academic crush is Sherry Turkle. I’ve listened to her TED Talks, I’ve got her book on my iPhone, and I have scribbled notes about her work.
But I’m not going to talk about that.
One thing that she said in a talk took my mind off in a whole other direction. She was talking about how early pioneers of computing were wondering how to keep computers busy, and how ironic it is that computers end up keeping us busy, in more and more ways every day. I’m typing these words on a computer; you’re reading them on a computer; you may send a link or record a voice memo or write a journal entry (bet it’s on a computer, for most of you) and that’s just one sliver of it all.
In a way, Ms. Turkle said, people are the computer’s killer app.
and my brain went “ding!”
Let’s Go to the Source…
It was just a hunch, but Wikipedia solidified my inspiration. A killer app is something that is “…so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology.”
There have been a lot of killer apps. The nice thing about them is that they first come into your life and change everything; suddenly things that were hard are not only easy, they are a pleasure to work with. Google calendar, for example; suddenly I wasn’t dependent on a wrinkled book, I could put my schedule up in “the cloud” and all my devices could see it. Other people’s devices could see it! We could even share events and invite each other to things and include links and guest lists and it would even let us know if one or the other was busy and suggest alternative times!
I know, you’re saying “Um, Gray, it’s just a calendar app.”
True enough. But do you remember life before the calendar app? Do you remember pulling out books and trying to compare them with your friends, or crossed out appointments and lost directions. Did you ever have your organizer fall out of your backpack on your way to class in a snowstorm and get lost and have all of your contacts and appointments and class schedules not to mention assignments and babysitter numbers get lost and need to be replaced? Hypothetically speaking, of course, but as someone who used to drool over DayRunners, I can tell you that GCal was a killer app for me.
Of course, after a while, that initial magic wears off, and the killer app isn’t quite as thrilling – but at the same time, it is essential. It sinks into the fabric of your life, and becomes a primary part of whatever technology you may be using it with. Twitter became a killer app for mobile phones, because it is so easy to use – either checking things or posting things – in the palm of your hand. Nowadays “Are you gonna tweet that?” is one of the most common questions you hear. People may roll their eyes, or race frantically to be the first one to tweet it…but no one questions the question itself. It’s become part of the common lexicon, even though five years ago the answer to that question would have been “Am I going to what?” accompanied by backing away slowly.
But Twitter and Google Calendar became killer apps. “Did you see my tweet? I sent you a link to the GCal event.” It’s the same as “Have your secretary pencil me in for lunch, and fax me the confirmation.” Or “Send a bird at once, let them know the Germans are at Bastogne!” or “Scribe, fetch your wax tablet, we must send a message to our cousins in Sardinia…”
Secretaries, faxes, homing pigeons, codes, wax, papyrus…these were all killer apps for the technology of communication. They were revolutionary until they were mundane, and then they changed into something else, or were replaced. I prefer the thought of changing, the idea that the letters you are reading on the screen are simply a somewhat revved-up version of the telegraph, with billions of on-off signals being used to convey the message rather than a simple tapper breaking and completing the circuit.
Why do I prefer the idea that killer apps grow and morph into new and better things rather than simply being replaced by another killer app?
Simple: my dream – one I think I actually share with many – is to be a killer app.
Technology: the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area. – Merriam-Webster
All of this talk of love, all the many workshops and ideas and conversations about how to love – it’s a technology, a way of using knowledge of psychology and probability and neurochemistry and sociological interactions to improve our experiences interacting with each other.
We’re all in this looking for that person who can be our killer app. The person you meet that suddenly changes your whole world; that makes things that used to be hard, like talking and sex and sharing and being vulnerable and intimate all suddenly become easier. Not only easier; essential, something you have to do.
Over time, sure, that initial rush wears off…but if it’s a real killer app, it only wears off because it has become an essential part of your love system. Not taken for granted, hopefully, but relied on with a level of trust and interaction like eating and breathing and sleeping. A real killer app will change, even to the point of being almost unrecognizable, but in ways that are built on a solid, valued foundation that is flexible enough to stay firm even while meeting the new challenges, fulfilling the changing needs.
Love is the technology of relationships. What kind of killer app are you going to be?