COM 0011 – BLOG #2 – The “SOMEBODY” App – You send a stranger to perform a message from you.

I was thinking about this second blog and I really wanted to find something to share with you that was shocking, cutting edge and/or mind bending.  I wanted to locate a new way of using social media that was creative, possibly brilliantly twisted and futuristic.  Something to make us all think about the future and what strange and unexpected paths social media might take!  I knew I hit pay dirt when I discovered “Somebody”.

How it Works:

Explained briefly by wired magazine, Somebody is a messaging platform that allows one person to deliver a message to another. The catch is instead of sending a direct friend-to-friend text, your message will be delivered verbally, IRL (in real life) via someone other than yourself. Think of it like a 21st century version of a singing telegram, without all the singing.  The way it works is this: You’ll log onto Somebody and pick a friend to send a message to. But instead of sending that message directly to him or her, you’ll choose an app user who is near the recipient who can deliver the message. Inside the app you determine what you’d like to say, and the human proxy will repeat your message to your friend, as though they’re reading off cue cards.  All messages begin by your proxy introducing himself/herself as you. So if I were to send a message to my brother, for example, my messenger would find my brother and say: “Sam? It’s me Liz.” Then she’d go on to repeat whatever message I intended to deliver, guided by a curated set of actions she must perform (they include, but are not limited to: hug, kiss, fist bump and buy a cup of coffee).

Finding this hard to imagine?  Here is an entertaining short film directed by Miranda July that shows you what using “Somebody” would look like:


Somebody is an app and a film created by Artist Miranda July. Miranda’s app first began as a film proposal to be part of a series of short films by high-profile women film makers for a series called Women’s Tales, sponsored by the women’s high fashion house Mui Mui which is a division of Prada.  Miranda, a talented emerging film director, wanted to make a film about an app and proposed they would then also create the app for real!  She was not expecting that Mui Mui would say “yes” to the whole idea, but much to her surprise they did!  Miranda directed and acted in the film and created the app with a team.  Somebody is the 8th film in the cutting edge short Women’s Tales Series.  Here is Miranda explaining how it all came together and giving you a bit more detail on what she wanted to create:

Affective Communication could be part of the Future 

“The app makes people do things they normally wouldn’t do,” July told Wired magazine. For July, an app (in this case, her App Somebody) is less about the phone itself and more about using technology to facilitate real-life interaction.  “It can get outrageous. I do like the fact that it creates these ephemeral experiences, but I also hope that some people will document their message deliveries, just so I can see them.”  Actually, Miranda shared some of the experiences people shared with her on her Somebody website for all of us to see.  On the site, people describe the thrill that happens when delivering or receiving a message.  According to Wikipedia, “affect, emotion, or feeling is displayed to others through facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, voice characteristics, and other physical manifestations” and it is just such “Affective Communication” that is the thrill and the fun part of Somebody!  In my opinion, the most fascinating part of the App is the messenger who performs the message through both word and action!  Let’s face it, people like apps that are fun and they like social messaging, together they are a great combo!

As a teacher I have noticed that many of my students are out in the hall on their breaks standing in a circle, not talking to each other, but typing adeptly and quickly on their phones.  Usually they type with two thumbs in a way that looks to me like the phones are an extension of their bodies, and it seems more spider-like than human.  The relative silence of the circle unnerves me and the reason they stand in a circle escapes me.  I imagine what would happen if the Somebody App invaded their circle…  I think I like Miranda’s idea of the phone as just a conduit of a message and using phones to create more “Affective Communication” in our future.  At this point, I know, many of you are likely thinking of security concerns that come with this type of messaging.  But let’s remember that there are security concerns that go along with all types of social messaging, the google list on the subject is a long one!  Also, the Somebody App allows you to rate the messenger with a 5 star system, like movies or restaurants, so you can be discerning.


Somebody 2.0

The Somebody app, at this stage, does rely on a critical mass of people downloading the app in a certain geographic area for it to work best.  The 1.0 version was primarily used and tested at the Venice Film Festival, where Miranda’s Film debuted, plus a host of museums and art galleries exploring new media: The New Museum, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, and Boston Museum of Fine Art, to name a few.  Somebody was available through the App Store, but has been taken down so that July can go from Somebody 1.0 to a 2.0 version, or so it says on her site.  When July was asked, by Wired, what she would like to see more of in the app she said, “Better writing” particularly with regard to describing the affect in a given communication. When a message is sent via Somebody, the composer is meant not only to transcribe the communication, but also to describe how it is to be performed. (i.e. “Jeremy, I miss you” [crying and holding hands].) In the context of screen-oriented living, communication does not end with words, but can expand to images, emoji, methods not yet seen or understood.

Somebody Man Woman Photo

The Stats that Support Somebody:

According to Sarah Perez, in her very informative article entitled Mobile App Usage Increases In 2014, As Mobile Web Surfing Declines, “Facebook, combined with Twitter (1.5%) and Social Messaging apps (9.5%) grew to 28% of time spent on mobile, up from 24% last year, indicating the broader shift from socializing on Facebook to sharing within smaller, more private messaging applications. These stats are based on the yearly statistics provided by Flurry, which are detailed more clearly in Sarah’s full article, but what it does mean, is that the social aspect of mobile phone usage is growing and evolving!

Do you want to be a Somebody?

I really hope that many of you will find the exploration of the Somebody App as mind bending as I did?  After finding out about it, I wondered if I would use it by sending a message or being a messenger.  I thought a lot about the risks, awkwardness and intensity of such an experience.  I guess I resolved that at least it was a human to human experience, rather than just silent communication through a device.  I will certainly track it’s evolution.  What are your thoughts on Somebody?  Would you use it?  Have you found any Apps that function this way?

7 thoughts on “COM 0011 – BLOG #2 – The “SOMEBODY” App – You send a stranger to perform a message from you.

  1. Wow! While this makes for a great Indie short film it’s so messed up in the ‘real world’. Perhaps it will catch on with the younger folk although to be honest, I hope not. I suppose if you need practice in acting class or enjoy the thrill of participating in such an app – then it might be good fun but could also be very dangerous not to mention emotionally crushing. The most positive possibility – in my old fashioned mind – is the ability to use it as a type of singing telegram but without the fees associated with hiring someone. Would you use this app? How would you feel if someone else used it on you? I look forward to hearing your experiences if you give it a go. As for me, I think I’ll stick to the old fashioned routes for as long as I can!

    • I think I would use the app given the opportunity Tara. On Miranda July’s “Somebody” site, there is a feedback area where people send in photos and reviews about the use of her app. The app is only usually actuated in a relatively small localized radius (which is how it best functions) for a limited period of time (as part of a festival or art opening). The experiences that people relate are in various ways incredible. But then again, I am the kind of person who has sent out singing telegrams and Shakespearean actors to deliver sonnets on Valentines day. “Carpe Diem. Carpe Noctem.” I often say!

  2. First let me say, WHOA!!! You’re article drew me in with much skepticism at first but the further I read and the more of the film I viewed the more it made sense. I am still not sure if the awkwardness of this type of communication would outweigh the benefits at this point but I can see its potential. This is such a novel idea and I applaud its creator. We have become such poor communicators with people texting more than actually speaking to one another that this may in some way steer us back to real human interaction, well semi real. Thank you for this blog, it actually blew my mind and I can’t wait to see what Miranda does next!

  3. Hey EP17 – You have beautifully captured that artists intention with your observation of her work “We have become such poor communicators with people texting more than actually speaking to one another that this may in some way steer us back to real human interaction, well semi real.” This is precisely what Miranda July’s work is all about! She is using the technology as a conduit to induce human interaction and encourage more of it. It is the loss of this direct human to human interaction that she is trying to point out!

    Yes, I am also very interested to see what she will do next! While we are both waiting for the next new Miranda July work, I leave you with another of my favourite Miranda works. This one is called “Nowness” it is meant to help you deal with the (technological) distractions of everyday life. What do you think EP?

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