The new app SOMEBODY by Miranda July has caught the attention of the technology, art and fashion world. Just in the past few weeks the app has been discussed in articles by the New Museum website, the BBC and W magazine. The app is a social media app that provides a chat service. The general premise of the app is it enables people to message each other through the medium of strangers. When messaging, the sender has the option to send their message to any app user near the intended recipient. The stranger chosen to relay the message will then find the intended recipient near by (matching their face to their profile photo) and read out the message that has been sent. The sender can even include details about tone and motions if they wish. In interviews July explains her inspiration for the app “Most of my work invites strangers to engage with each other, and someone suggested I should create an app based on that. At first I thought the idea was ridiculous… I don’t even have apps on my phone! But then I started reminiscing about singing telegrams and the way romantic messages used to be delivered by friends when we were in high school, and the idea for the app started to take shape.”. She felt compelled and driven to make her idea an app reality because she wanted to push the limits of technological communication, “Isn’t it funny the way we communicate nowadays? Thanks to our phones, we actually do a lot of communicating when we are alone, which is interesting, because it’s almost something we are doing for ourselves more than for other people. When you think of all the messages you keep on your WhatsApp, your Facebook feed or your Instagram, it feels like a sort of enormous diary. I’m curious as to how we can make it a more external experience: what kind of modern means of communication would make you feel as alert and alive as live communication?”.
Apps as Collective Performance Art?
Unlike many or all apps, July’s intent was not to create a practical or functional app but instead a social statement and to some extent a collective performative art on the subject of the social media. The app enables people to put social behavior back into social media. Ironically many find that by investing more effort into social media results in the reduction of socializing on a day to day basis. This app not only combats this issue but can also be interpreted as a collective performative art piece. Because of the unique genre the app falls under, the success of the app is unpredictable. Not only does the app face social hurdles but also cultural challenges. This social app may not be as popular in the East as it might be in the West because of cultural differences. It will be interesting to see how this apps controversial statement translates into real life.
This isn’t the first time the fashion industry has teamed up with technology. We are increasingly seeing fashion houses team up with technology companies such as Dian von Furstenberg and Google Glass or talk of Burberry and Apple to create wearable technology. In the same way, Miu Miu paves the way for outer fashion power houses to commit their support towards mobile apps to create media trends. July’s app experienced countless benefits from their affiliation with Miu MIu including financial support, exposure and instant prestige. The attention SOMEBODY has earned forces us to consider the future for the relationship between fashion and mobile app technology. Will designer apps become the next big trend?
Interestingly, the app, which in itself is a product of modern commercial technology, encourages its users to revert back to a time where communities spoke to one another instead of communicating only via technology. SOMEBODY in many respects asks the user to celebrate nostalgia and re-embrace behavior that was common only decades ago. Is this a common thread in some apps? Are some apps popular because they help people to live nostalgically? Consider Instagram: an app that uses technology to add filters to make otherwise clear and high def digital photographs appear like old film images.
Overall, Miranda July not only provides us with a new perspective on how apps can be used and why, but also highlights the entrance of designer brands into the industry. Her contribution to the industry peaks the interest of many and highlights many potential directions the industry could take in the near future.