Web is free, when you don’t afford to pay

The date that I went on a short while ago was by far among the best first-glance interactions that I have had with a person of the opposite sex in as long as I remember. She sipped her white wine and I submerged my psyche in my second double-shot of Kahlua. The thick bitter liquid was at the right temperature, thanks to the two cubes of ice that shined in the glass and glittered under the dim light of the cozy pub that I had chosen for our special night.

We spoke at length of existence and agency. Whether the table in front of us existed, and if there are different kinds of existence. More specifically, whether we existed in a way similar to that of the table. If agency was a phenomenon to be analyzed, or if it was merely the mirage of the coexistence of the multitude of cells that constitute us. My companion did not miss the opportunity and opined that a true relationship happens at the atomic level, and not on the more apparent conscious stage. A nuclear physicist by profession, and passion as well, as I was to reckon soon, her view of the now was intimately based upon the physical, as opposed to the magic of a notion of the supernatural.

We “met” less than one hundred hours prior to that rendezvous on a dating app. I had set up a profile that reeked of distaste for the mediocrity of the mainstream and would urge only the one who “thinks Chomsky is important” to bother to cause a splash in the electromagnetic ether that we have become used to accepting as a sixth sense that connects our brains absent of the need for physical proximity. She liked me and then sent me a “Hi :)” message.

I would have not noticed the like, had I not paid the premium that allows one to have a full picture of her presence in that environment. In other words, you can interact with the app, or rather allow the app to interact with you, in two distinct ways. One, you are a freeloader; You set up a profile and like people and wait to be liked and called upon. When people interact with you, however, you don’t see the details. “Someone liked you”, that is what you are told. Someone. One person amongst the eight billion occupants of the planet thinks that you are worthy of a few seconds of her time. Or his time. Or its time. How many years in the future and we would first encounter and then get used to, as we always do, bots running people’s presence on the web? What if it is an app that is “liking” me? Maybe it wants to test the waters before the master allocates a minuscule of her attention to me?

There is a second, rather more affluent, way to interact with the app and that is the route that passes through your bank account. For the price of a few pints of quality beer, you get the full picture. You see who liked you, and you can let them know that you like them. You also receive boosts to the top of the list, especially when everyone is looking for a mate. Come next Friday evening, when the population of single women are pretending to be solely interested in their drinks, and you can pay to show up at the top of the list of the available bachelors in the vicinity. A larger transfer, and you can feature a handsome profile picture and boast about your familiarity with Hegel and Schopenhauer and how well you know the underground culture in Toronto. Alas, this second payment is to a different merchant, but that is not the point. You have better chances when you pay.

Last night I decided to pay for porn. It is a valid question whether porn strips women off of their humanness. While the answer to that question is vitally important, with so many women identifying with their erotic appeal, I, as a man, can manage to pack up a clear conscious and enjoy the sight of evolution having gone astray. All in all, my concern last night was not whether or not porn is an acceptable form of pastime. On the contrary, I questioned my decision in the past two decades that I would not give my interest in exploring my sexual desires the same opportunities that I allot to my urge for food and shelter. I have chosen to live in a paid residence, and not in the streets for example, and do not pick up food from the dumpster. Why and why then do I succumb to the mind-numbing repetition of unimaginative free porn?

The same logic is applicable to not only dating apps, but apps in general, and in fact the entirety of the digital sphere. Recently, our book club was postponed for two months due to some glitch in the human psyche. That was painful, no doubt, but what was more daunting was Facebook’s refusal to allow me to change the date of the corresponding event which had been scheduled to happen in the past and never did. It was, and is, clear to me that I must be able to interact with Facebook as I wish. Yet, Facebook does not allow me to do just that. “An event can’t be created in the past.” That is what Facebook keeps announcing, or “toasting” as the Android terminology suggests, when I try to update the date of the book club Facebook event to tomorrow.

I know that the event has not happened yet and, no, I am not “creating” an event “in the past”, but how am I going to let that be known? No one is liable to listen to my complaints. Zuckerberg has guaranteed it in the fine print whose acceptance is a prerequisite for living and breathing on Facebook that I, as a non-paying user, am not more than a tolerated leech, whilst unbeknown to me it is my blood that lets the wheels of the digital machinery churn out the billions of dollars that pay off dividends to the investors as well as is the source that yields the salaries of the executives at Facebook.

Here is the core of the argument, unveiled of the shroud of allegories and half-baked thoughts. As long as I do not pay to Facebook the price of my ticket, I am not a passenger, but a mere cog in the ship. If I am not paying, then I am needed to behave in a certain way, and while I admit that the conundrum is more complicated than such a dichotomy, I would like to dictate the terms of my ride.

The dating app that I got to know the fascinating lady on at least gives me the option to pay, and I do pay, and as a result I go on dates that stimulate my mind and give me food for thought well past the date night. Similarly, because I am paying for my porn, I now expect better content and at least a shred of imagination and a tangible storyline. I want to be given the option to pay for the treatment that I receive on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and hence expect a minimum level of acceptability for the service that I receive there as well. Decidedly, that is going to segregate, even further, the haves from the have nots. My brain is not at ease with that. I fathom, however, that such a move would at least put an end to the shortsighted declaration of the digital sphere as an idealistic utopia in which “things are free”.

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