I try to keep this commentary at least somewhat analytical, but lately, I’m wondering if that’s not a flawed strategy. If an app that’s only capable of messaging a single word, "Yo," can crack the top 50 free apps in the Apple App Store (AAPL), then maybe I’m over-thinking things a bit.
Since I’m at a loss to explain this phenomenon, maybe I should just ask you: What does it mean when a guy raises $1 million in venture funding, spends all of 8 hours to develop an app, launches it on April Fools Day, and now it’s more popular than Facebook (FB) Slingshot and Uber?
If you answered that Silicon Valley’s VCs have finally lost it, that we’re definitely in a tech bubble, or that human civilization is devolving back to the stone ages way faster than it took us to get here, you’re probably right across the board.
No, Yo is no joke, bro … although you wouldn’t know it by some of the iTunes reviews:
“Yo is a way of life. Since downloading Yo, all my relationships have improved and I’ve regrown most of my hair.”
“I Yo my dog like every day and we’re really starting to connect on a whole new level ... This app cured my acne and got me a date with my older sister’s friend.”
“Yo saved my marriage. It also cured my cancer, brought my career to the next level, and saved me a bunch of money on my car insurance.”
And, I saved the best for last:
“We no longer need intellectual discussion. We no longer need language. This is the next stage of human evolution!”
Indeed. A few weeks ago, TechCrunch provided proof that the human civilization has arrived at Idiocracy – the sadly prophetic Mike Judge spoof on the dumbed-down future of mankind – almost 500 years ahead of schedule.
The evidence? The number one game in the Apple App Store was a drug-dealing game called Weed Firm. Number two was 100 Balls and number three was Toilet Time. Probably would have been more appropriate if numbers two and three were reversed.
We used to read and write books. Then blogs. Then texts and tweets. Now we’re not saying anything at all. Just "Yo." It’s not even a single bit of information. It’s not a ‘0’ or a ‘1’. It doesn’t tell you ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It’s like Coke Zero, but without the flavor, the liquid, or the can.
Yo founder Or Arbel calls it “context-based communications.” He says you get the meaning based on who sends it and when. He says, “The way it affects your life is profound.”
Perhaps more disturbing than what investors get for a million bucks these days is the way in which folks seem to be straining their gray matter in a desperate attempt to make more out of Yo than it actually is, which is “nothing.”
One blogger said it’s like old-school pagers. OK, I admit to being ancient. I used to have one of those. Before cell phones, someone would page you and you’d call the number on the pager display. We’ve sort of evolved beyond that, I think. Now you can just text or call.
Jeff Macke, a finance guy, thinks Yo critics are missing the point. “Maybe Yo is the new woof,” he writes, “Maybe there’s a reason man’s best friend only needs one noise to communicate.”
Please … don’t insult my dog, Jeff. She communicates in lots of ways, including different sounds that mean different things. Truth is, domestic animal communication is orders of magnitude more sophisticated than Yo. Which says a lot about which direction our high-tech culture is heading in.
In a tweet (how appropriate), venture capitalist Marc Andreesen – a very smart guy, actually – called Yo an “instance of one-bit communication: Yes or no. Yo or no yo.”
With all due respect, Marc, not exactly. Since whatever it is that Yo is supposed to connote will clearly become diluted and lose its meaning if its sent too often, that means the logic bit will only be “on” a fraction of the time. In that case, it’s not so much communication as it is notification.
Andreesen does, however, accurately equate Yo to various notifications, including a police siren and a flashing stoplight. He even points out the “missed call” phenomenon used in poorer Asian and African countries where an intentionally disconnected call communicates a previously agreed-upon message without having to pay for it.
Funny, when I was penniless in college, I used to do that to notify my parents that I’d arrived somewhere.
Notification, communication, however you look at it, Yo takes us backwards. And if that is the trend in human communication and civilization, then I have to agree: Idiocracy, here we come.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.