We all got stern warnings about stranger danger when we were kids, but according to a research group at MIT, we could all use more contact with strangers, not less. That’s why they developed a new iPhone app called 20 Day Stranger, which connects you and a stranger and lets you anonymously observe each other’s lives. You get updates on what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, where they are (the app pulls photos from Google Maps and FourSquare instead of using exact locations), all delivered matter of factly, without Instagram filters or disingenuous Facebook status updates clouding reality. At the end of the 20-day period, each person has the opportunity to send the other a single message, in which they can include their real contact info (but only if they feel so inclined).
The goal of all this anonymous life sharing? Fostering connection, understanding, and empathy.
“If it works, if it succeeds, you’ve started to model the life of a stranger in your head and maybe in your heart,” says Kevin Slavin, director of the research lab. “And if it really works, you start to realize that all the strangers around you all have complex and rich lives.” The app aims to attract people from all over the world, so people will be matched up with a partner far outside their geographic location, culture, and social group.