How do you feel about sharing your life with a stranger for 20 days? An iPhone app, called 20 Day Stranger, was developed by MIT researchers to let you intimately watch the life of a stranger on the other side of the world from the palm of your hand.

The app anonymously pairs you up with another person on the other side of the world for 20 days. Neither participant receives any specific information about the other–no name, no address, no serial numbers. You never even see a face. The app automatically sends general information about what the other participant is doing in the hopes that you’ll get just enough information to imagine another person’s life and maybe even care about that human without ever having to becoming friends.

“You’ll never know who it is or exactly where they are, but we hope it will reveal enough about someone to build your imagination of their life,” the app’s site says.

The mobile app shares basic details that can be collected from location data and the accelerometer, such whether the other participant has awakened, is biking to work, sitting in a coffee shop, or hanging around an airport, and even what the weather is like in the other city. The app provides vague details by tapping into Google Maps, Instagram and Foursquare to provide imagery. For example, if your friend is hitting up Dunkin Donuts, the 20 Day Stranger app will only tell you that the person arrived at a coffee shop. Then, you might see a random photo from Instagram of a coffee mug. Depending on what the other person is up to, the app will also pull random images from Google Maps that have been taken in the general area, giving you a sense of the neighborhood.

20 day stranger

Photos and video via 20 Day Stranger; h/t Fast Co.Design

The MIT Media Lab Playful Systems research team developed the app in a collaboration with MIT’s Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values to explore the way you think about other people. Does this change the way you see people throughout your day-to-day life?

And, yes, the 20 allotted days was intentional. Receiving continuous updates about where this other person is, what he/she is doing, and eventually even how he/she is feeling (with this other person discovering the same about you) for 20 days offers just enough time to get a sense of the other person’s rhythms, but it’s also a short-enough amount of time to know that the time limited connection is valuable. According to Fast Co.Design, participants are only able to send a single message to their partner at the very end of their 20 days together.

20 Day Stranger from Playful Systems on Vimeo.

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