News & Views
Rise of the antisocial network

An unfortunate consequence of social networks is that we have the tendency to immediately invite people into our digital lives, regardless of whether we actually like them or not. Facebook is by far the worst offender in this regard; for years now it has been encouraging us to reconnect with second cousins and schoolmates we never got along with in the first place. A secondary side effect of rekindling these associations is that, when you eventually run into these people in real life, you feel more of an obligation to make conversation and feign interest in each other’s lives.

Last month we profiled BreakFree, an app which monitors the amount of time you spend on your phone and helps you kick your smartphone addiction. Now there are also apps to help you live your life without running into these tertiary online acquaintances.

“I think that the age of mass social networking has reached its peak, at least for us first-worlders,” says Chris Baker, co-creator of ‘antisocial network’ Cloak. “Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are public arenas where we cultivate versions of ourselves that are well-manicured, mostly false, and always ‘on’. I think that is what’s beginning to wane. We’re exhausted from it and by it.”

If you are connected to somebody on Foursquare or Instagram, then you now have the power to dodge them in real life, eliminating those painful “How have you been?” conversations in which neither party is invested. Cloak mines your friends’ geo-location data to alert you if a boring old work colleague or angry ex is around the corner, so you can give them a wide berth.

Cloak isn’t the only service for helping you avoid those awkward encounters. Udi Dagan came up with the idea for his antisocial app, Split, after he had the bad luck to bump into not one but two ex-girlfriends while on a night out. Split follows the same model as Cloak, and scans the local area to flag friends who are nearby – but it only works if your friends have their geo-location service enabled.

According to Baker, Snapchat and other private messaging services which forgo the often spammy content feed of regular networks could become the norm: “Now platforms that enable ephemeral, private and very loose moments are starting to become hugely mainstream. Antisocial stuff is on the rise.”

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