Is the concept of “anti-social media” possible? One graduate student at New York University thinks so and is quickly realizing that other people agree.
“Hell Is Other People” is an experimental Web app that utilizes FourSquare to track check-ins made by friends to determine the best possible routes and areas to avoid them. The experimental anti-social media app was created by Scott Garner, a master’s degree candidate in the interactive telecommunications program at NYU.
“The key to the idea started when I moved to New York for grad school,” Garner said. “It was overwhelming for me to be around so many people in the city, and social anxiety was at the top of my mind at the time.”
Garner also got the idea from a presentation FourSquare co-founder Dennis Crowley made about FourSquare’s early beginnings.
“[Crowley] was a student who wanted to party and started working on this app to find out what bars everyone was hanging out at,” Garner said. “Well, what about the students who don’t want to party all the time and don’t want to go to bars all the time? What can you do to avoid people by using technology?”
The Web app is simple to use. First, a person connects his or her FourSquare account through “Hell is Other People.” Then, the Web app conjures up an avoidance map. The map contains orange and green points. Orange points indicate check-ins by other users, and green points represent “optimally distanced safe zones,” as suggested by the app.
The experimental project initially began for a class final at NYU.
NYU adjunct faculty member James George said his final assignment, “Let Go,” required students to create a system that enabled individuals to behave a certain way.
“I thought it was an amazing interpretation of that idea,” George said. “I think Scott was resistant to doing group projects throughout the class. He was like ‘No, I don’t want to rely on other people.’ He was able to turn that personal anxiety and channel it into the concept of that piece.”
The thought of an “anti-social media” app may seem ironic, but Garner said the initiative isn’t as ridiculous as it seems.
“In some ways, social media and online media are kind of anti-social in that you’re interacting in a virtual space,” he said. “Some people retreat to Facebook in place of personal interaction. It’s something I’m trying to explore.”
In an email to ABCNews.com, NYU master’s candidate David Lobser emphasized the unique quality of Garner’s endeavor.
“As an elegant and satirical take on the current tech boom in social media apps, ‘Hell is Other People’ is unparalleled,” Lobser said.
George said that there is a comic perception that “art is not a useful thing,” but that Garner skillfully made his artistic experiment valuable.
“I think Scott’s tool and people adopting shows it’s useful in that it answered this anxiety of wanting to avoid other people,” George said.
Garner’s interest in social anxiety and anti-social tendencies ultimately resulted in an unexpected but positive reaction.
“It has been great for me to see that it’s really resonating with other people,” he said.
The web app is available at http://hell.j38.net.