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How Apple can mess with your life

How many people now live their lives according to the information provided by various iPhone apps? And how many of those spent 25 years working for Apple?

I had just been poured a drink at a bar Saturday night, when the man to my left tapped me on the shoulder.

"That's an 8," he said.

Unsure as to what he was evaluating--my beauty out of 100, perhaps?--I turned toward him very slowly.

"Er, excuse me?" I muttered, squinting at the man's long, straggly hair and rather kind-looking face.

"Your drink is an 8. Normally they pour you a 6," he said.

My silence must have appeared somewhat noisy to him, as Oliver (not his real name) picked up his iPhone and began to explain:

"You see, I'm running an app on my iPhone that tells me how much I can drink before I get into my car. And the lady behind the bar has poured you 8 ounces, not 6."

"So you trust your iPhone to tell you precisely when to stop?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. I also run a calorie app," said Oliver, a little too enthusiastically.

"What's a calorie app?" I said, dumbly.

"It's an app that tells me exactly how much I should eat every day," he replied. "But it's a bit of a problem to be honest, because when it tells me I'm 300 calories under my limit, I then order a dessert, even though I don't actually feel like eating a dessert."

"So you let these apps tell you what to do and how to live?" I asked, feeling a weird frown forming above my shades. "Don't you realize that half of this techy stuff was designed by people who barely see the light of day, adore only numbers and secretly want you to be a little more like them?"

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I was one of them for 25 years. In fact, I hadn't been anywhere near a computer for a year until I got this iPhone."

CC Yutaka Tsutano/Flickr

I grabbed at my now 6 ounces of pinot noir a little too hastily as I listened to him explain: "I worked at Apple for 25 years. Huge machines. Back end stuff. Loved working with those machines. Loved being able to tell them what to do."

"So what happened?" I asked, becoming increasingly fascinated by Oliver's openness.

"I just couldn't do it any more. All the things I really wanted to do, I couldn't. Because the machines always took priority. The machines always had to be looked after. Without the back end systems, nothing at Apple could have happened."

"So you were at the mercy of the machines?" I wondered.

"Yeah. I loved them. But I just couldn't take it any more. If I'd stayed another 5 years, I would never have had to work again. But I couldn't do it. So one day I just walked," he said, a curiously guilty joy in his eyes.

"So what are you doing now?" I asked.

"I'm trying to find a life beyond the one I used to have," said Oliver. "I'm traveling, seeing things, having new experiences, learning to play the guitar. I've got a great new business idea, too."

Oliver said he was heading up north because he'd never really been there.

As we said our good-byes I asked Oliver again whether he really needed those iPhone apps to tell him how much to eat and drink.

Still sober, at least according to his iPhone app, he said: "Information is fun, isn't it? But I guess I'm traveling to see what else is fun in this world."

As he thought about it, he told me that he had gone to a music school which, at the end of the course, gets its students to form a band and gets them to play live at a San Francisco venue.

"I love metal," he said. "And so for my song, I chose Sabbath's 'War Pigs'."

"How did it go?" I asked, three ounces in my hand.

"The best feeling I've ever had in my life," he said.