There's a drip attached to my wrist. It's keeping me alive. It kept me alive while I was in London. It guided me to safety, it found my friends and it helped me decipher an unrecognised haunting melody. It warmed me with familiar songs on my favourite mix tape, it helped me find a sheltering inn and it allowed a renowned journalist to send a dirty message to a pal of mine, with attached photo of herself. I thought this blog post would be about the flashpub event that I attended and, to some degree, it is. However, it's also about the little companion in my pocket, the iPhone, that helped me through the entire weekend and for that I simultaneously thank it and hate it. In that sense, this blog post is more perfectly suited to the Luddite web developer persona of my Twitter username, particularly as I will conclude that such dependence on the iPhone is not
a good thing.
From the moment that I landed in England's capital city, jumping on a Tube train to Kings Cross brought with it the first puzzle. Even though I knew the name of my hotel and the accompanying address, I was overcome by the sheer number of damned hotels at Kings Cross. Asking for directions and the people of London were typically helpful, while the cabbies were particularly vocal in showing off "The Knowledge". However, the problem was simply one of similarity. Often, individuals would point to the hotel they thought I meant, so I'd variously get pointed to "Premier Lodge Kings Cross", "Holiday Lodge Kings Cross", "Kings Cross Premier Inn" or, indeed, any permutation of a bunch of words that could conceivably lead me to what I was actually looking for - namely, "The Kings Cross Holiday Inn Hotel (Premier)". In the end, I held up my iPhone and chose an augmented reality application called Layar. This then meant I could look through the lens of my camera and have a grid superimposed on the street in front of me, showing the location of hotels all around me as blue blobs and identifying them all by name. So far, so Tron. The solution of finding my hotel then consisted in walking slowly down Kings Cross Road, staring through the iPhone viewfinder toward the big blue blob marked with my chosen hotel name and avoid looking like a lost tourist. More to the point, I had to really try not to look like a lost tourist bumping off London pedestrians like a drunk Daddy Longlegs, holding an expensive piece of Apple-branded machinery out in front of me in full view of everyone.
By the time I arrived at my hotel room, the high-tech arsing around had made me feel high-handedly blasé. Stupid of me, as I had to immediately meet up with a female friend and fellow tweeter that I'd never actually seen in real life till now. I ended up rushing out after spending too much time trying to make myself look presentable, something that was ridiculous in hindsight. I was meeting a lady that had admired the cut and gib of my blown 140 character verbal chunks (vice versa, me with her), not for any surface appearances. My fellow tweeter had also confessed to having a black eye due to a gin-fuelled excursion involving a police car and a pavement. She had told me that I could, more or less, turn up looking like Fred West after he'd emptied his bins and she wouldn't have minded. How did I manage to meet her so quickly, if she was in Soho and I was at Kings Cross? Well, considering how unfailingly smug I was with the iPrick, I probably thought I could teleport at that point. However, I downloaded the London Underground iPhone app, which immediately told me the quickest route I could take to meet the damsel-on-Dean-Street and it meant getting to Oxford Street Tube station. My iPhone also helpfully pointed out that I should walk east down Oxford Street once I got off the train.
So, once I leapt out of the station, I did what any smug bellend with an Apple penis extension would do. Rather than check the skyline, I whipped out the Compass iPhone app that duly pointed me east. What an absolute cunt I must have looked to everyone. In my slight defence, I was in a hurry. Even still though, it is only a slight defence. After a few minutes, I turned a corner and saw a proper 3D, honest-to-goodness, non-virtual version of my fellow tweeter, RoxanneLaWin. It's always properly unnerving, but simultaneously exciting to meet a tweeter for the first time. It's happened once before, when I finally met deadlyredhead in a theatre foyer and she made a first impression on me by showing me the fart application on her iPhone (told you the iPhone was the underlying theme to this entire blog entry). RoxanneLaWin made her first impression on me by doing what any self-respecting human being could do to a lost soul in London. She hugged me. Quite apart from it being a good strong squeeze, it made me realise that virtual interaction really does have its limits. Plus, get the iPhone violins out (and there'll be an app for that, I don't doubt), it made me realise that I hadn't been given a hug in ages.
This then leads neatly onto the flashpub scenario itself, because the main reason it was organised was to finally meet all these people in the flesh. And, again, the iPhone came into action again. Quite apart from using the Tweeps function (which geographically seeks out marked tweets), we were made aware of where the flashpub event was taking place by a slyly placed tweet from none other than the highly mischievous Times journalist (and sometime TV presenter), Caitlin Moran. "We're upstairs!". So, we jumped up the stairs and joined the conglomerate of charmers there. That's really no exaggeration, either. Every single one was utterly charming, even "swearmonger-in-chief" Ian Martin. Special mention should be made to one tweeter from Birmingham, who very nearly didn't make it, due to excessive shyness - and the lovely lady, the aptly-named tweeter ihavecake, who brought with her... wait for it... cakes! And, my goodness, what cakes!?! My tastebuds have still not fallen out of love with me because of that encounter.
I should really single out Caitlin too, as she formed the unexpected role of acting as a useful beacon (and hostess) for the flashpub event, as her familiar face (from being in the public eye) marked out the group as being the correct gathering. If she hadn't been there, RoxanneLaWin and myself would genuinely have not found the group! Caitlin also casually brought up the next example of my iPhone being a domineering tool throughout the weekend. After I told her that a male friend of mine (who will remain nameless) couldn't attend the flashpub event, she took my iPhone and sent him a personalised text message, full of empathy and sensitivity: "Hello, it's Caitlin here, come and join us in the pub, we're pissed and talking about cocks!". And just for good measure, she got me to take a murky photo of her and attach it to the lovingly crafted text message, just to prove it wasn't just me winding him up. Plus, it would be remiss of me not to mention that a friend of Ms Moran's and Ms Martin's, writer David Quantick
, made a surprise appearance later and I was able to buy him a whisky for his work on one of my favourite comedy TV programmes, "Brass Eye" (and "The Day Today"), as well as enjoying a natter with him.
Anyway, after a blissful night, talking to an elegant array of intelligent and lovely people, I appear to have made a few new friends. I hope to see them all again in the non-virtual world real soon. Preferably a world where I didn't need to rely on my iPhone every second. Quite apart from all of the above uses, it also got me to the airport in time (the Underground Tube app "pushes" notifications of train delays); it identified a song in a cafe that I'd wanted for ages but didn't know the title; plus it played a Spotify song compilation that I'd assembled while I was running around England's capital city. Here's the deal, though. Apple's iPhone may be the bees knees for useful apps, but every single one of them that you buy in Apple's App Store breaks web standards. None of them are cross-platform and none of them can be ported to non-Apple phones. Although a recent Apple acolyte (I'm typing this on my lovely MacBook), I'm certainly not part of the Steve Jobs religion. Sure, Apple's designs run along the "nothing useless can be truly beautiful" principle of William Morris, but the non-portability of iPhone apps is a monopolistic nod to vendor lock-in - something Microsoft is routinely guilty of. I don't want to have an Apple-branded syringe constantly taped to my arm, particularly as the group of smart and sassy real-life tweeters were a timely reminder that technology has its limits and can never replace witty chat, fine wine and good beer.
Here are the lovely people I managed to natter with on the #flashpub Twitter event. Please follow them, because they're all brilliant! I wish I'd managed to talk to everyone there, so sorry if I never managed. Oh, and here's the Spotify compilation I made while I was down in London.