September 27, 2021

Autumn equinox has arrived and one day later we are thinking of queuing like zealots for the new iPhone 13. Pensive, hesitant and reluctant; we are actually worried about the hassle of switching phones with all the stored passwords and apps, but we need 5G and the home button must go.

Evergreen and Evergrande, everything “Ever” has been bad news in 2021. Every day we are beset by a stream of spams, scams, phishes and infuriating robocalls, which have now been replaced by more sophisticated human voices. Yet we cannot escape now or even choose to opt out because it is impossible. Sometime earlier this year, we betrayed ourselves and put our entire life into the phone. Yes, Singpass app, TraceTogether, PayNow, and about two dozen apps for banking, payments and services.

It was a major identity crisis, which spawned into an existential crisis of sorts for us. It all started with the lost password which happens sometimes to people who write down their passwords (and sometimes forget to) because passwords are important but complicated. Some require symbols while others do not. And we are encouraged not to use the same password for all our logins.

You may find yourself walking into the bank across the street because it is impossible to navigate the online interface; some banks have not hired qualified UX designers for their websites, complicating their password changing process to require your phone which you have left at home. So, when I went there in person with my identity card on hand, I was promptly informed “no phone, no password”—much to my dismay and chagrin. Does my physical presence not count? Or my national identity card? Who am I? Am I me or am I, my phone?

Questioning our identity and existence is something we do not have the luxury of time to think about these days because we are too preoccupied with the next Who Gives a Crap start-up that managed to raise AU$41.5 million (the co-founder perched on a toilet for 50 hours in a campaign before); looking for the next 175,000 per cent stock rally that Goldman Sachs’ new ETF is purporting to do.

As crazy as it would have sounded a few years ago, the phone is our life now. We cannot log in online without using the phone as a token. We transfer money with our fingerprint or face, pay for stuff with our phone camera. We are truly bound to the phone, which makes the thought of forgetting the phone when you leave the house an absolute nightmare let alone the thought of ever losing it along with the anxiety over battery life and the worst is no internet connection, network down or no Wi-Fi! 

Speaking of updates and backups, the former is a religious affair because there are just too many bugs and hackers out there lying in wait, spyware, ransomware and whatnot. A dear friend who is a compulsive WhatsApper, with a blast list of nearly 200, was devastated when the app crashed. She lost her entire sticker collection (along with all media) because the cloud storage was wonky and got smudges instead of images. She could not reinstate anything despite reinstalling the app about a half dozen times. To make matters worse, she had to manually delete the smudges of videos and stickers one by one as she mourned the loss of her prized sticker collection.

Recently, the phone has become our vaccine passport to get us into the wine bar or restaurant, but it is also our faithful alarm clock, watch, diary, camera, video maker, calendar, address book, phone directory, map, navigator, health monitor, library, supermarket, newspaper, shopping centre, food source, credit card, wallet, bank, portfolio manager, mailbox, game device, TV, movie theatre and all that. Our life resides in our phones; we meet friends and socialise, chat with people, find dates, make appointments, read, play games, watch videos, invest, gamble, sign documents, liaise with the authorities and even meditate and pray. It has become an extension of our consciousness, thoughts, memories and a link to the world out there.

Can we live without it? Do we exist without it? Is it part of our existence? An extension of our bodies? Can we find a way to embed it in ourselves for fear of losing it, automatically update it to the next model or keep it constantly charged? What will happen if Earth gets struck by a solar flare that incapacitates the network?

We are well trained by the various apps by now, to log in and complete tasks daily for points and check for promotions. Soon, we will be trained like monkeys to swipe left, right, make a circle and all for the new interface. And we will continue to follow the rules and do what we are told. Is there any wonder why China is starting to rein in phone use? (But the time is not yet ripe to opine on that.)

As far as existential crises go, the global markets would appear to be coming to a crossroad of the forever rally and given that memories are short, forever would equate to the relentless rally since last April and the QE galore that ensued. We have come to question how long will the rally last with prices of nearly everything but gold and iron ore spiking higher and higher; from supply chain bottlenecks and shipping costs to commodities to housing to electricity tariffs to wages, affecting nearly every aspect our of lives except where NFTs are concerned.

To put in some form of perspective, 2021 Returns – Solana $SOL: +9,721% Dogecoin $DOGE: +4,726% AMC $AMC: +1,786% GameStop $GME: +915% Moderna $MRNA: +335% Ethereum $ETH: +326% Crude Oil $USO: +56% Bitcoin $BTC: +54% Commodities $DBC: +35% S&P 500 $SPY: +20% Bonds $AGG: -1% Gold $GLD: -8% Gold Miners $GDX: -17%

Drawdowns for Asia – China Internet KWEB: -53% Hang Seng Index: -29% China FXI -26% CSI 300: -19% KOSPI: -5% Shanghai Comp: -4% Taiwan Exchange: -4% Nifty 50: All-time high SENSEX: All-time high TOPIX: (Best since 1990) Nikkei 225: (Best since 1990)

The cognitive dissonance is intense but most people would just laugh at you and tell you that it does not matter anymore because the returns speak for themselves. 14-year-olds are making $30,000 a month mining crypto, the world’s 25 richest families gained another $312 billion in net worth over the past year, $8 trillion dollars are tied up in just five U.S. stocks, every dip is for buying and Mongolia’s stock market is the best performer in the world as entire generations around the world risk being locked out of home ownership as a JPEG of Punk#7252 ($5.5 million) cost more than a Picasso’s Mother and Child painting ($4.13 million) and JPEGs’ of rocks, sharks, penguins and tulips make millionaires out of kids.

The existential crisis for us has just begun; we have never felt so vulnerable and uneasy about the phone these days, fretting over it like a tumorous growth as it continues to consume and envelop more and more of our lives. If you have reservations about the new iPhone, we have managed to skip four generations.

Similarly, the market’s day of reckoning would appear to be just around the corner as we question the value of physical and virtual assets, the stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, cryptocurrencies and their NFT spawns, stablecoins (coming next week), SPACs and such, weighing in on the electricity bill that has doubled in three months and other inflation in our lives. We wonder if we continue contemplating, if somewhere down the road, we will make a crazy and startling discovery that the crisis started with the phone.