Miranda July Releases a Messaging App With a Message

With "Somebody," your text messages could be delivered by anybody.

Miranda July.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.
Photo via Somebody App

Photo via Somebody App

Today artist, author, and film director Miranda July has launched Somebody, a mobile messaging app with a uniquely experimental and/or satirical concept, billing itself as the next level of interpersonal communication (the tagline “Texting is tacky. Calling is weird. Email is old.”) The concept is like WhatsApp meets Marina Abramovic: When you send a message to your friend using the service, it goes not to them, but to the Somebody user physically closest to them. The other user must then act as a stand-in for you, delivering your message verbally and with the requisite emotion (which can be selected from a list ranging from “romantically” to “fist bump”).

As stated in the press release, “The most high-tech part of Somebody is not in the phone, it’s in the users who dare to deliver a message to [a] stranger. Half-app/half-human, Somebody is a far-reaching public art project that incites performance and twists our love of avatars and outsourcing—every relationship becomes a three-way.”

Created with support from fashion label Miu Miu and launched at the Venice Film Festival, the app comes with a 10 minute, very Miranda July-esque companion film that illustrates its potential to bring together people from drastically different walks of life for one bizarrely intimate shared moment. In the film, we watch an adult man facilitate the breakup of two pasty teens, a waitress propose to a lonely woman from her jailbird husband, and (spoiler alert!) a plant inexplicably ask its owner to water it via the man’s girlfriend in the sexually charged finale. It’s a weird world, and it’s now available for you to take part in, should you choose to accept this mission.

An artist-designed app that riffs on social media, performance art, and the relationship between humans and machines was bound to grab the attention of the intrepid staff at artnet News. We immediately attempted to turn our office into a Somebody “hotspot,” which basically just means a place where many people are active on the service (as you can imagine, it works better with more participants). Unfortunately, its current iteration has a few technological kinks to work out. We won’t go into detail because it’s still very much worth trying, but definitely be sure to respond to any requests you receive immediately, or else they’ll disappear forever. It’s also better suited for large, stranger-filled spaces like universities, concerts, and community centers.

So, will anybody actually use Somebody? Is this the next Yo? It’s unclear, and it probably doesn’t matter. More interesting than the technological reality of the application is the idea behind it—a tool that’s rooted in the natural communication styles of today but with an infusion of the once-quotidian humanity that’s been sapped by “iPhone hand” syndrome. It’s a wake-up call that technology doesn’t have to equal reclusivity. Even if most people don’t want to go up to a stranger and start crying another person’s tears, it’s awesome to think about doing so, and perhaps that thought pattern can cause us to view our interactions differently. Either that, or this is exactly how your next breakup is going down.

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