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Future Tech: 

Live as a stranger for 20 days with new app


A new app from researchers at MIT lets a person experience life in another country or culture by allowing them to swap their virtual life with someone else for 20 days.

At the end of this social experiment, where identities are kept secret, each person has just one chance to send a message to the other. Will they exchange contact info, or simply say “bye”?

How does it work?

It’s not a case of filming everywhere you go and relaying it back in a video feed to a stranger, although with devices like Google Glass you could probably do just that, but more based on information regarding your general movements.

So your phone’s sensors collect information as you move around and, with help from existing online services, creates a virtual world. For instance, if you’re strolling through Berlin, the app will tell your mystery watcher where you’re walking and provide Google Street View data.

What’s the point?

Kevin Slavin, director of MIT Media Lab’s Playful Systems research group, told Fast Company, “We started by thinking, could we make some piece of software that allows you to be connected to strangers in a way that produced empathy instead of suspicion, contempt or disdain?” This highly specific – you see when the person wakes and sleeps and exactly where they go – yet also vague experience is the answer, he explains. “We’re not trying to tell a story with 100% accuracy. What we’re trying to do is lift out a story with enough texture and detail to provoke you to imagine a real life somewhere else, happening right now, tied to yours”.

When can I get it?

The 20 Day Stranger app is currently in beta testing within MIT, but the team hope to release it soon. You can apply to participate on the dedicated site. Let’s just hope that when you try it you don’t get partnered up with John McDull from Boringsville.

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