Spy on a Stranger for 20 Days (We Swear It's Not Creepy)
By Emma McGowan
In the age of social networks and free WiFi, anonymity has become an anachronism as quaint as the corded phone. Over the past few years we’ve come to accept that we will never again be truly anonymous, that our one night stands will pop up on our newsfeeds, and that the bong hit we didn’t realize was being photographed will surface at the least convenient job-seeking moment.
And yet, growing out of the same culture that stole our facelessness, there’s now an app whose entire premise is anonymity. It’s called 20 Day Stranger and it’s a beautiful social experiment in empathy.
Created by The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT, the app connects you with another person and lets you share your life with them for 20 days. You never find out who or where they are, and yet you’re given an intimate glimpse into their daily life as they are given a glimpse into yours.
The romantic possibilities for this idea are simply mind blowing. It’s a prime set up for a romantic comedy – imagine the plot twists that could come out of the search for a man’s one true love based only on the information he gleaned from watching her life on his iPhone for 20 days.
This ingenious application is not only fascinating on a personal level, but also has implications for social justice as well. Studies have shown that empathy for another person is one of the primary ways to combat racism, even the unconscious racism that so many of us are unaware of harboring.
How awesome is it to say “There’s an app for that” and have it be about something meaningful, for once?
And, on a lighter level, the romantic possibilities for this idea are simply mind blowing. It’s a prime set up for a romantic comedy. If couples are finding each other and falling in love through Instagram, imagine the plot twists that could come out of the search for a man’s one true love based only on the information he gleaned from watching her life on his iPhone for 20 days.
My mother once told me not to date men who don’t read fiction. She said that fiction allows us to live another’s life in a way that nothing else can. She’s totally right, of course, but I’m excited to tell her that technology has brought us something that could actually rival a novel. I just hope I don’t have to explain what an app is first …