As a child I often laughed as the older folks around me complained about the downfall of new technologies and the failings of what was then “today’s youths”. To me their opinions were nothing more than narrow-minded and nostalgic. As I grow older, however, and as technology continues to improve exponentially, I often find myself falling into the same narrow-minded category of those I used to loathe as a child. As I look up from my smart phone to see a train filled with people staring at their smart phones, I cannot help but feel pessimistic about the direction society is headed.
Writer, filmmaker and artist Miranda July has come out with a new public artwork in the form of an app, called Somebody, that addresses our shifting modes of communication. This app uses smartphones as a way to connect strangers in a real personal and physical way. When you send your friend a message through Somebody, it goes — not to your friend — but to the Somebody user nearest your friend. This person, who is likely a stranger, then delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in. July playfully uses technology to force the face-to-face connections she, and many others, so greatly value.
By Megan Guerber
I dread the loss of memory, social skills and ability to maintain focus that computer technology may induce, I also have to remember that Socrates himself warned against the technology of writing, fearing that if children learned to write it would detract from their ability to remember. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s our fear of change that needs to be questioned.
Technology is not necessarily the end of the world, but it does signify a dramatic shift in how the world works. While social media and messaging platforms have altered our need for face-to-face communication, they have also brought us together in new ways that allow for us to share ideas and effect social change much faster than ever before. With phones in our hands, we may not look out into the world as much as previous generations, but that doesn't mean that we are disconnected. It’s that the form of connections are changing from physical to digital.
By forcing face-to-face interactions with strangers, Somebody points out the immediate risk of direct speech that is often obscured by the web. As July says, “I see this as far-reaching public art project, inciting performance and conversation about the value of inefficiency and risk.” Users can request their stand-ins to deliver messages in a certain way, from crying to whispering to giving a fist bump or even a kiss.
If you are interested, the app is available in the iTunes store as a free download (iOS only). To test it out, I suggest that you head over to one of the many hot spots set up for users, including the New Museum, or even set up your own. To find out more, visit http://somebodyapp.com/.