Every day when I open my Facebook Messenger app and scroll through my inbox, I know there will be a message from Baglio Del Faco waiting for me. It's a restaurant I visited last year in Cefalu, Italy. After ordering a beer, but before ordering the bur rata, I signed into the restaurant's Wi-fi, which unknowingly linked me up to their Facebook messenger mailout.
I've since been on the receiving end of daily messages from a bot, all in Italian and usually advertising the weekly specials, or convincing me to book early, and don't miss out.
Lately, I've taken to replying, first with a simple Ciao and more recently asking how things are over there. And the bot replies – promising more specials or 10 per cent off on midweek meals. Weirdly, it's become a source of comfort, and I've come to rely on their distant-yet-consistent check-ins, like an annual phone call from an aunt you barely remember.
I tried explaining the appeal of my automated pen pal to a friend (a real human friend), and she looked at me with pity. But what about catching up with your actual friends, she asked.
While there's no substitute for true social interaction, I'm at the stage of life where maintaining friendships has just dissolved into a series of date swapping.
Can you guys do the Friday night? No, what about Saturday? We might be able to brunch, but then we've got a lunch. Should we look at next month?
My phone is overflowing with half-baked promises to catch up soon, most of which never eventuate. And if they do, it's nice but fleeting, and everyone leaves knowing the gap is only widening.
My, myself, my mobile phone
While going off the grid has become ironic proof that you're more advanced than others, I for one am running towards the cool, harsh embrace of my digital life. In a world where most people won't do anything for others, I'm losing count of ways technology looks after me. (Maybe they'll create an app for that?)
In the morning, Facebook's "On This Day" functions hit me with a dose of much-needed nostalgia. Sometimes it's confronting – who knew I owned so much Von Dutch gear? – but often it's a happy freeze frame of a time long forgotten.
On the train, Spotify will fill my ears with a new release radar, ensuring that I'm across the latest work from artists I've shown an interest in. There are also suggested playlists, based on other playlists I've previously listened to. It's like being hugged by an algorithm.
Later in the day, maybe my eyes start hurting from too much time on Instagram. Cue the Daily Activity Reminder letting me know I've spent 90 minutes on the app.
Where technology doesn't want me overdosing on technology, showing a remarkable level of self-awareness, I have friends that freely spend two hours talking about themselves, never pausing to consider if they're approaching their daily limit.
Come dinner time, UberEats is equally attentive, offering options like What You've Ordered Before, New For You, and my personal favourite, Comfort Food.
All this points to technology's unrivalled ability to understand us, which is what we crave more than anything.
It's no surprise that the fastest growing app in the world right now is Co-Star, an astrological app which promises "Hyper-Personalized, Real-Time Horoscopes." The app sends daily push notifications which are both blunt but on the money: "Try not to talk shit today." While there's an element of novelty to Co-Star's cavalier approach, the real appeal lies in recognising yourself in the messaging.
Every relationship has down time
Right now the vibe around technology is at an all-time low.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are seen as piranhas who want to mine your personal data and then discard you to the highest bidding advertiser.
Parents are crippled by screentime panic, teens are addicted to iPhones, scrolling is the new smoking, you may like a photo, but you hate yourself. The list goes on.
And while all this may be true to some extent, I also know that the world can be lonely, life is busy and people are sometimes selfish.
So if you log on to Facebook and see a message written entirely in Italian, offering you a pizza-pasta meal deal on the other side of the world, it's OK to reply and feel a warm glow inside.
After continually being told to "use his words" as a young boy, Thomas Mitchell took that advice on board and never looked back. Since then his words appeared all over the place, including in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time Out, The Huffington Post and GQ. Thomas spends his days observing the unique behaviour of the Australian male, while trying not to overstay his welcome at the local cafe.
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