Finally, there's a social media app for people who hate social media -- and other people: "Hell Is Other People," an "experiment in anti-social media," uses Foursquare check-ins to help people avoid their so-called friends.
The app pulls Foursquare data to calculate "safe zones" around a city, or "optimally distanced locations" where people can feel certain they'll avoid anyone they know. Rather than holing up at home -- a surefire way to avoid bumping into people -- individuals with social anxiety, frenemies or just plain annoying acquaintances can now navigate their city without fear of seeing friends.
"Hell Is Other People," inspired by a line from Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit," is the brainchild of Scott Garner, a Master's candidate at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. On his website, Garner describes the app as "partially a satire, partially a commentary on my disdain for 'social media,' and partially an exploration of my own difficulties with social anxiety." (He also notes it was a final for a course at ITP).
"I actually really hate social media," explains Garner in a short video he made of himself navigating New York with his app. "I had to sign up for a social media site and talk to people to get them to be my friends on that site so I could avoid them."
After allowing Hell Is Other People to access their Foursquare account, users will see a map of their location that shows the 20 most recent check-ins by their Foursquare acquaintances, with "safe zones" delineated in green. Users can click on the orange dots, which indicate a recent check-in, to see who checked in, where and when.
While Foursquare, the brainchild of another ITP graduate, seeks to help people discover new venues by getting recommendations from their friends, Garner's anti-Foursquare does much the same thing by steering them away from places populated by people they know. Hell Is Other People users can discover unexplored locales in the process of avoiding acquaintances, and counteract what Garner sees as the "homogenizing" effect of social recommendation services.
"You end up in places that have no meaning, but are far from your friends," Garner said during a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "If you think about how Foursquare works, it says, 'your friends like this, so you might like this too.' It has this homogenizing effect. You could see this [Hell Is Other People] as, 'No one you like goes to this place, so maybe you should try it to break out of this social sphere you're operating in.'"
As Garner notes, copiously working to avoid people can actually make a person maddeningly reliant on the very individuals he's trying to steer clear of: The app only works if a user's Foursquare friends are actively checking into the app. Otherwise, the playpen-like "safe zones" risk being out of date or inaccurate.
"Most frustrating of all is that people are not checking in today," Garner laments during his video. "I hate doing things that depend on other people because they are so unpredictable and unreliable."
Garner notes that he's considered incorporating other data, like Facebook check-ins or geo-tagged tweets, to give his app for a fuller picture of unsafe, social zones, though has no immediate plans to do so. Just shy of 600 people have installed his app, and he notes its popularity has actually forced him to socialize.
"In a weird way, it was a conversation starter that made me interact with more people in all regards," he said. "In that way, it kind of backfired, but that's okay."