The writer, director and artist Miranda July has made an app. It might just be the most Portlandia piece of mobile technology anywhere on the planet. Even in Portland, where it will most definitely be a hit.
July, whose whimsical full-length films include You and Me and Everyone We Know (2005) and The Future (2011), launched the new app Somebody yesterday on iTunes. The idea is that rather than sending a text message, you send a message to a Somebody near to that friend who will deliver it in person. There are options for the way the message should be delivered – “yawn”, “longingly”, “buy him a cup of coffee” and “custom” – and pictures so the person delivering the message can find the recipient on the street.
“Unpredictable, undocumented, fleeting interactions with strangers can bring great joy and inspiration!” boasts the app’s website. “Pretending to be someone else is liberating. The feeling is a little like truth or dare + charades.”
For example of how it might work, July created this short film – debuted last night at the Venue Film Festival – to explain:
I downloaded the app this morning. Turns out the New Statesman office is full of Nobodys. The only person on there was my old music friend Luke Leighfield, but he lives in Berlin now and does techy stuff, so it’s not all that surprising he’s keen. But I’ll keep an eye on it, assuming the GPS doesn’t suck all the life from my phone. Perhaps it appeals to me because I like talking to strangers (I am northern), but also because it feels more like art than technology. Art that is “the closest thing to nothing,” as performance artist Marina Abramović said of her retrospective The Artist is Present – during which she sat at a table opposite visitors for “encounters” – at MOMA.
“Every relationship becomes a three-way,” July says, which can’t be bad. But just in case it is there’s the option to switch Somebody to “Do Not Receive”, and there’s a ratings system to weed out disreputable persons. It’s like a collision between Sophie Calle and Tinder. There are already meet-ups planned (though none in the UK as yet . . .) It’s a fun idea, though unlikely to become the next big tech world success – mainly because it makes things more difficult, not easier. The investors boosting the industry might not like this kind of arsty pointlessness, a willing friction, but people do.