Much extreme mouth-frothing and outrage in Hong Kong today, after protesters break a glass door and sort of get into the Legislative Council building at Admiralty. Anyone wanting a live, blow-by-blow account of the action could have followed the squabble, or – since it happened in the early hours – caught up with it first thing this morning, on Twitter…
The Umbrella-Occupy movement has probably doubled the amount of time I ‘devote’, shall we say, every day to Twitter. The ‘social networking service’ (as it’s officially termed) also conveys profound thoughts from the most authoritative of sources…
…and occasional bits of pointlessness that manage to get through, even though – in the interests of squeezing some sleeping and eating into my schedule – I limit myself to following less than 100 Tweeters, or whatever they’re called…
The other social-media thing I do is WhatsApp, which is essentially a simple and instant email system (so instant, it makes email seem stupid and pointless unless you want to attach a document or contact any of the 99% of people not on WhatsApp). When everyone was in a panic about Occupy Central occupying the main business district and requiring workplace closures, my office’s contingency plan relied on WhatsApp messaging to let Zenky, Panny and the rest know whether to come in. As the thumbs-up on the right show, it worked.
As we can also see on the right, WhatsApp can be used to send photographs – in this case essential guidance to the depraved on how to cut a lemon with a driver’s licence in order to make gin and tonic with the latter-day Hogarthian beverage known as King Robert.
Until recently, the main nagging problem facing WhatsApp users was that one day the company providing the service would follow through on its longstanding threat to implement charges, specifically of US$0.99 a year. Instead, however, it has implemented a system of ‘blue ticks’ in the outgoing-message box, which let the sender see whether and when the recipient has read the missive. What the engineers probably saw as a modestly useful new function has now become a nightmare of our modern, on-line existence.
In Saudi Arabia, a man divorced his wife after finding that she hadn’t bothered reading his latest boorish pronouncement. But the problem doesn’t end with people ignoring messages. The real complication arises from the fact that many users want to be able to read messages – but pretend they haven’t. Someone wants to tell you something; you know what it is that they want to tell you – but they don’t know that you know, and that basically means you’re in charge. Senders’ ability to use the blue ticks to find out at what time you read the message even further undermines your privacy and mastership of your own destiny.
The WhatsApp people, grief-stricken by the mayhem they had unleashed on the world, hurriedly designed a way to make the blue ticks optional. And so the trauma comes to an end. But, of course, no.
The Standard surveys a number of Hong Kong users, starting – quite rightly – with former weathergirl Icy Wong. Icy is minded to disable the blue ticks for privacy reasons, but she’s a bit dim. One KK Chan is smarter, reasoning that if you switch the function off, others will wonder why you did so, and what it is you are trying to hide. From them.
The game now looks like this: someone wants to tell you something; you know what it is that they want to tell you; they don’t know that you know; and they know you don’t want them to know that you know. And they will obviously never trust you again, for being such a devious, secretive, deceitful, underhand piece of slime. Yet another improvement to our lives brought to us by modern technology.