Illustration: Caroline Adaszynski
I can now empathise with Kafka's Gregor Samsa when he woke up on that fateful morning and realised he had turned into a cockroach (well, was well on his way to becoming one), because this morning I woke up and realised that I had become an app.
My metamorphosis was not totally unexpected as I had retired last night with apps on my mind and, just like Gregor, have since been going through my mind, trying to understand the events that had led up to this.
I have been teaching German for nearly 50 years, the past few years to adults. My catch cry when someone didn't know the correct German word was: ''Look it up in the dictionary!'' (please note the imperative mood, the subject of this week's lesson). And in the past, students would reach for their various-sized dictionaries and go through the joys of discovering which was the appropriate word. Not any more. I have become aware that most of my students don't even possess a dictionary (shameless Philistines). Instead, they play under the table with something in their laps and mysteriously come up with a word. At first I used to wonder what was going on in their laps, but was too discreet to ask.
But now I know. They are consulting apps on their iPhones. Not only do they look up words but also whole phrases. It has become all-out war between me and the app. The feeling of triumph I get when the app has completely misled the students and they have to resort to asking me is, to use the modern terminology, awesome. How unsatisfactory has my life become when I get a real thrill out of feeling superior to an app?
Last night one of the students suggested (and I don't think maliciously) that I should write my own app - it could be the path to fame and fortune. I possibly would if I had the faintest idea about what apps are and how they work. My mobile phone is one that Captain Cook threw away because it was so antiquated, and my wife won't let me have an iPhone on the grounds that I am a card-carrying technomoron.
So, just as Gregor unconsciously withdrew from a world that he didn't like or understand, I have decided, albeit unconsciously, to become a walking, talking, know-it-all app. Students have been pushing my buttons for nearly half a century without much success. Now they can do it in a way that they understand and I don't. But unlike poor Gregor Samsa, at least I'll know what 'appened to me.