The fact that we all walk around with our heads down compulsively tapping on our phones is no longer even worthy of satire, it’s just a fact of life. Binky is an app that’s kind of like a social network that doesn’t connect you to anyone. It understands the banality of our mobile screen time and gives you something to do that accomplishes nothing... just like a real social network!
When the New Yorker did a long profile of Apple designer Jony Ive back in 2015, the author observed that “[Steve] Jobs and Ive had different dispositions, but perhaps shared a lack of social smoothness, and it seems fitting that one of their great joint achievements was to give digital distractions to people forced to ride in elevators with nodding acquaintances.” It’s a comment that might sound like a criticism of our avoidance of interaction in the real world, but it’s true that smartphones really have been a gift to those of us who’d rather just avoid eye contact with strangers. Sure, you can keep up with the news and your friend’s lives; you can check the weather and get directions; you can play some Candy Crush and find a date, but above all, the smartphone gives you something to occupy your attention in the idle moments of life. Binky understands this and it delivers just what you’re looking for.
The app consists of a basic Instagram-ish newsfeed. Images of banal subjects like “Camel” and “Lithium-Ion Battery” float past as you scroll and they’re captioned simply as “Camel” and “Lithium-Ion Battery.” You can hit a star to “like” the “bink” and a satisfying star explosion occurs. You can leave a comment and each letter you type will produce a word in a prewritten post that comes out like, “I just want to say that you are the best,” followed by endless random emoji. You can re-bink the binks but no one will ever know, aside from the developers of the app, maybe, but why would they collect this meaningless data? If you swipe left on a bink, an image like a skull or a bomb will appear. If you swipe right, an image like a trophy or a diamond ring will appear. The whole interface is quite satisfying and if you just let go, you get that little endorphin rush that comes with interacting with tweets.
Dan Kurtz, a game developer, improv actor, and the creator of Binky, tells the Atlantic that he had the idea while mindlessly scrolling through social media updates and thinking, “I don’t even want that level of cognitive engagement with anything, but I feel like I ought to be looking at my phone, like it’s my default state of being.” He decided to make an app that drains whatever semblance of meaningful content exists out of the network and leaves you with a simple content/interaction machine. So yeah, it’s supposed to be a bit satirical, but I prefer to think of it as practical.
The Atlantic’s write up of the app will satisfy all your desires to contemplate what this thing means and how it fits into the history of media theory. But I’m here to tell you what this thing does and simply suggest that you use it. There’s something kind of soothing about its completely innocuous series of images. The selections are like looking at the most boring Pinterest ever or the image folder of a rudimentary encyclopedia. They won’t make you scream “yasss queen” and they won’t make you feel bad about the state of politics. They’ll never give you FOMO and you’ll never make a drunk comment that you regret.
It’s a lot like a fidget spinner — just something to do. But in the same way that a fidget spinner might give you a way to stop biting your nails, Binky could help you break the phone addiction, if you want it. Concerted effort to use the app instead of scrolling through your Facebook timeline could easily act as a mindfulness exercise, and at it’ll at least make you aware of what you’re doing. But just give into it and you might feel like it’s just as good as the real thing. Try it out next time you’re in line for five minutes or taking that awkward elevator ride. It does the trick. And rather than getting mad about the latest thing Ted Cruz did, you’ll just think “Camel,” you’ll look at a camel, and the ride will be over.
[Binky via The Atlantic]