The Hello Machine: Minus and Encounters With Strangers on the Internet

The Hello Machine: Minus and Encounters With Strangers on the Internet

There's an app for just about everything. But can Minus really neutralize awkward social interactions between complete strangers?

Written by Michael Thomsen (@mike_thomsen)


"Meeting new friends" was one of the brighter promises of the Internet in the 90s, something that seemed plausible with the camaraderie formed in chat rooms and message boards. As these free-seeming spaces were slowly corralled into networks driven by entrepreneurs and investment capital, the idea of meeting new friends online lost its romantic glow just a bit. It's certainly still possible to form friendships through online identities and shared interest, but the environments that support that exchange have become increasingly untrustworthy, and so enthusiasm is tempered more and more by skepticism and mistrust about some catfish trap gliding unseen beneath the digital sodality.

Minus is a new iOS and Android app that aims to return some bit of innocence to the technologically mediated friend-making process. "The idea of saying 'Hello' to someone unfamiliar or a stranger has always been taboo," John Xie, Minus's co-founder wrote on the company's blog. "We hope to change that and help our users build a new level of connection with those around them, through chat and photos." The app is a sort of sexless version of Grindr, using a person's GPS data to detect others nearby who they can send messages or pictures to. 

 

Minus is a new iOS and Android app that aims to return some bit of innocence to the technologically mediated friend-making process.

 

Each user has a rudimentary profile that can be tied to a Facebook account, which organizes a user’s uploaded photos, records the last time they used the app, and how far away they are. In an ideal scenario, you might see a person who draws your interest crossing the street or darting into a cab, send them a message, and hope for friendship to be struck. Or else you might discover a neighbor's photographs of some as yet undiscovered bar or restaurant on your block that gives you a reason to get out of the house for an evening.

It's unsettling to think we have reached a point in American culture where saying hello to someone is taboo. It may provoke anxiety in the person saying hello, but much of this comes not from the inherent social pressure to invent a pretext that doesn't honestly acknowledge why you're drawn to the person in the first place. It's more apt to say the taboo is the part after hello, where one must find a way of not saying things like "I find you intensely attractive and have been imagining kissing you for the last 2 minutes," or "You're wearing the coolest clothes and I want to be friends with you so you can mold me in your image."

The Internet amplifies these bizarre social incongruities more than it smoothes them over. Jokes are passed like pathogens, capturing the absurd truth of people's first reactions to things, a kind of exchange that favors hyperbole and surreal overstatement to sympathy and consideration. Last week a Georgia representative introduced a bill that would make it illegal to use an image editor to add someone's face into an obscene picture without their approval. Rep. Earnest Smith drafted the bill after discovering a writer for the blog Georgia Unfiltered had done just that with Walker's head, pasting him into a scene where he was having sex with a woman from behind.

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Tags: apps, minus, the-internet
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