It's a modern cultural cliché for us to view the pull of the smartphone as a method of avoiding others, and it's incredibly common for a group of people to sit around a table together, and instead of having a conversation, they're all staring at their phones. To my way of thinking, they may as well all be sitting at home by themselves, staring at their phones, except for the fact that occasionally one of them may look up and share what they just read or saw with someone else at the table.
Connecting with others and making the world a bit smaller is one of the big benefits from the increased use of social media, as we can chat and share links and photos and videos with a network of people far bigger than the community we see on a daily basis. It's empowering, it's educational, it's amusing, and it's enabled a whole new way of relating to the world around us.
Unfortunately, there's a dark side to it, and it may actually be making us more anti-social, especially if a new app that uses social media to help users avoid people in real life is any indication.
The app, dubbed Cloak, has the tagline, "Incognito Mode for Real Life," and it aims to be virtually the opposite of other location-aware applications, by making it easier to keep from running into people you don't want to see.
This antisocial network grabs data from the Instagram and Foursquare accounts of your personal network, allowing you to avoid the places where they are, or just recently were. According to Cloak, while Instagram and Foursquare are the only connected social networks at the moment, there will be more social media accounts added in the near future.
Cloak plots out the locations of people in your network on a map, using the geo-location data from their last social media update or check-in, so you can stay away from those places and avoid the inevitable 'in real life' interaction, where you may have to actually talk face to face with them.
In addition to plotting a map of your contacts' recent locations, Cloak offers it in a list form, with all of your contacts sorted by their relative distance from you, and allows you to search for those people you really don't want to run into. And for the truly hardcore antisocial user, Cloak has an alert feature, so you'll get notified when certain individuals come within a predefined range from where you are.
In the light of our habit of oversharing, and of connecting to people on social media that we wouldn't otherwise hang out with, some part of this antisocial app makes sense to me, because we don't always want to connect in real life with everyone in our social network. However, it really does beg the question of why we want to connect with others in the digital world, while wishing we could avoid them in the physical world.
Having said that, if you really want to keep from running into that neighborhood know-it-all or gossipy coworker when going to the coffeeshop, you can grab Cloak for free at the App Store. Sorry, Android and Windows phone users, this antisocial app is strictly for iOS right now.