Arrested Development is known for predicting trends, and it looks like Season 4 was no exception. The fictional ‘Faceblock’ designed by George Michael (Micheal Cera) as a type of anti-social network, has now launched in reality with the app ‘Hell is Other People.’
Using data taken from Foursquare, the app attempts to warn you when you’re getting too close to anyone you know. The app, described as “an experiment in anti-social media” tracks your ‘friends,’ and uses a formula to calculate “optimally distance locations for avoiding them.”
Developer Scott Garner is currently a Master’s student at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and says that he created the app because he “hates social networks.” Given Garner’s education, it’s no surprise that the app is named after a famous line from the French Philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte’s No Exit. ‘Hell is Other People’ is available for download now, as long as you have Foursquare active and have friends that are logged into Foursquare.
We spoke to Scott about his experience creating ‘Hell Is Other People’ and his relationship and thoughts on social media.
Heavy: What initially gave you the idea to create ‘Hell is Other People?’
Scott Garner: I have very real problems with social anxiety and moving to New York last fall to attend NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program was a major shock. When project proposals came due for James George’s Emerging Processes in Media Art class, I decided to use it as an opportunity to explore my social difficulties as well as the love/hate relationship I have with social media.
Heavy: Given that the app is named after a famous line from French philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte’s ‘No Exit,’ how did the philosophical ideas of Sarte influence your creation of the app?
Scott: Almost all of the work I do has some kind of philosophical underpinning and existentialism has been at the forefront of my mind for years. For those that don’t know, the gist of No Exit is that a group of people are basically in a room in hell waiting to learn how they will be tortured for all eternity, but discover that just being around one another is the worst torment possible. Of course, Sartre became a socialist later in life and loved his fellow man, so there may be hope for me yet.
Heavy: Do you have any plans to expand the app beyond Foursquare?
Scott: Typically, when I’m done with a project I’m done and ready to move on to the next thing. I also have very little interest in building and maintaining a useable “product”. That said, I do think there are a lot of interesting directions this could go. A topic that is coming up a lot is a way to avoid very specific people, like ex-girlfriends. You could potentially scrape Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to know where they are at all times and avoid them with amazing efficiency. I think it’s weird that people stay “friends” with their exes, but that’s the world we live in.
Heavy: What do you dislike about social networking?
Scott: It’s like this amorphous cloud of disdain that’s hard for me to fully pin down. I think the basic idea is that however it is spun, it isn’t actually social—you’re sitting in a room alone and not really dealing with people. I can sympathize with that, of course, because dealing with people is difficult and messy, but I really think something is lost when you don’t have to do it face to face. Essentially, though, it’s a gut feeling and I don’t think I’m the only one experiencing it.
Heavy: What do you enjoy about social media, or more broadly, media in general?
Scott: I struggle with media consumption because I think people now are typically over-informed and over-stimulated. What can be nice about something like Twitter is that you can choose to pay attention to a few select accounts with hyper-focused areas of interest and expertise and have this collectively curated experience that protects you from the insane deluge of content that is the internet.
Heavy: Do you have any active social media accounts?
Scott: I follow twelve accounts on Twitter and that’s basically how I keep up with what’s going on in the world. For myself, I’ve tried various degrees of engagement from chain tweeting to almost total radio silence and have settled on using it (and Tumblr) as a place to announce new work.
Heavy: How do you think social media has influenced the world today?
Scott: It’s really a divided topic because I think there are plenty of examples, particularly with Twitter, that show social media connecting people in truly meaningful ways—particularly in regions where the expression of personal opinions is oppressed by the government. On the other end of of the spectrum, I’m noticing this weird exclusionary phenomenon in which, for example, nobody knows my birthday anymore because I don’t use Facebook. You have to take the bad with the good, of course, but I think there are a lot of facets of this topic that people are only beginning to explore.
Heavy: Do you feel like this experiment in ‘anti-social networking’ will be successful? Why or why not?
Scott: Well, my personal metric for success is simply that I explore the idea I set out to explore. I’m not terribly interested in making things that are broadly useful, but the fact that it seems to resonate with people definitely justifies the work in a certain way. In a practical sense, though, it was actually completely unsuccessful in that it has drawn a lot of attention and sparked a lot of conversation—which means I’m interacting with people more instead of less.
Heavy: Were you aware of the ‘Faceblock’ joke from Arrested Development Season 4, and if so how did that influence your development of ‘Hell is Other People?’
Scott: Somebody actually told me about that yesterday! This project was developed during March and April, so I wasn’t influenced by that particular gag, but there definitely seems to be something in the air concerning the weirdness of social media.
Heavy: Besides for ‘Hell is Other People,’ what are some of the other projects you’ve worked on?
Scott: Being antisocial leaves me lots of time to work on ridiculous projects. My biggest pieces from the last year or two are probably Still Life and the Beat Box, along with a few dozen other objects and experiments, but nobody every seems to notice that it’s one person making all of it.