TED Conversations

Hugo Amsellem

Host, TEDx Paris Universit

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Building an app to deepen relationships we have with people.

Sherry Turkle's talk really moved us, and two friends and I decided to do something about it:

Technology and social innovation has been focused on increasing the quantity of interactions and the quantity of the people you interact with.

We need to spend less time reading and liking statuses online and more time with our people in real life.

Why? Because for relationships to blossom we need to have real life interactions. So we decided to build something to make them better and simpler.

We are starting to build a mobile app whose sole purpose is to have a real life interaction with people you already know and that you want to see!

This is not a spammy thread to promote the app, because the app doesn't exist yet. We just want to meet and share with people that share the vision and wanting to be a part of it! Ping us on http://bit.ly/TEDpeople

Is a mobile app that facilitate face-to-face interactions (so we can increase the quality of relationships we have with people) something you'd love to see?

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    Sarah M

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    Oct 30 2012: Hi Hugo
    I fully support the less Computer/Phone social media time and more real people time.
    Isn't having an App for this a contradiction?
    If there was an App for it shouldn’t it say “ get off your phone and talk to a person in person”?
    What I have noticed recently about people’s interaction who rely on their phones is people sitting across from each other in restaurants both on their phones to other people or social media websites.
    If you look around a room of people you will see people everywhere checking facebook, Twitter etc. It seems to be a social crutch for some people. If you are nervous or uncomfortable in a social setting what do you do? Go to your phone.
    It seems to be more of a problem for the Youth. Common curtsey is gone and they will talk to you while on their phone as well. In a world where multi tasking is praised maybe we should go back to the basics when communicating with each other and focus on one thing at a time.
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      Nov 9 2012: Thanks a lot for your insights Sarah! We totally agree! When we feel alone we go to our phones and we refresh our facebook/twitter/social feeds. This is wrong because this is a bottomless pit. We want to create a digital place -an app- that you will go to when you feel alone, but the only purpose of this app will be to see friends in real. Think of it as if on facebook you'd have your 'online friends available to chat' plus your 'friends available to hang out'. Would that make you see (different) people more often, and more easily?
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        Nov 9 2012: Hi Hugo
        Thanks for responding.
        Still not really getting the concept but any App capable of bringing people together has to be positive :-)
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    Oct 26 2012: Hi Hugo,
    GREAT idea to spend more time with people in face to face interactions....with a mobile app? I "Pinged" your site, and found that one has to "join" on line to be connected with the site.

    How about getting on the phone, or knocking on a friends door and inviting him/her to have coffee? Lunch? A beer? Going for a walk? Playing a Sport, or just sitting and talking? I don't understand how joining a site on-line facilitates face-to-face interactions! In my perception, you are simply encouraging more of the same behavior that you say you would like to move away from!
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      Oct 30 2012: The mobile App have as only goal to ease the "knocking on a friends 'digital' door and inviting him/her to have coffee! We think that mobile tech potential to help see each other more in real life has not been reached yet, we want to go this way!
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    Oct 24 2012: The app is a great idea; even though deepening relationships between people is far simpler than we are ready to admit.
    All is takes is unselfish people; determined people; and people who are ready for the hardwork and sacrifices that would be neccessary for such.
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    Oct 22 2012: Wouldn't getting together in real life and spending time with people we want to see be something we can arrange by calling or emailing to invite each other over or to meet somewhere?

    Since you talk about deepening relationships, in my experience deeper relationships arise when you get together face to face with one or two people.

    Isn't the value-added for an app over a personal phone call mainly when you want to send out an alert to lots of people simultaneously?

    I assume you mean the app is for scheduling rather than somehow placing prompts for discussion on your phone. Or do you mean something like having an Ungame app on your phone?
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      Oct 24 2012: I 100% agree with you Fritzie, this is exactly what we are aiming for! I didn't know Ungame, it's a great way of getting to know people! I just answered with a new comment, tell my if the problem that we are trying to solve is more clear to you!
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      Nov 9 2012: Merci beaucoup for the time you took to think with us, Myf! We mainly think shame is at the bottom of why connections don't occur. Because people are afraid they are not worthy of connection. More precisely, they fear that if they ask someone to hangout, they'll decline. So they endup hanging with the same few people, or staying alone. The networking, signing in to a group chat is an answer to those fears. We want to create a place where those fears don't exist, and where you can just see who's of your friends are available to hangout, and just hangout with them easily!
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    Oct 23 2012: Isn't it just another approach to surf the 'app-able' wave - or is it just me feeling or even being a bit odd regarding this infectious app-hype?

    If I understand you right, what you propose, is to write a small computer-program (app) running on smartphones and/or tablet-pc's with the main purpose to get people to use less small computer-programs (apps & Co.) on those devices and to more often talk 'in person' with one another?

    If this, my understanding is correct, what do you need this app for?

    All those devices have what it takes already: The OFF switch !

    The best face to face conversations I have with my friends get setteled in a very robust, old-fashioned yet quite effective way - I just call them to arrange a meeting, or I just step by at their place when I am arround.

    So whatever 'tool' could be better than those mentioned to get this most simple task done?

    In my opinion, if people chose not to meet each other in person anymore, it is not the technology which insulates them from doing so, it's more likely they haven't found the right friends yet, or they have nothing left or experienced to really talk about.

    I didn't mean to undermine your idea on purpose, yet I just don't see a meaningful point in it.
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      Oct 24 2012: I just answered with a new comment! The OFF switch is really useful, but we thing we can use technology to go even further!
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    Oct 23 2012: We must be careful not to substitute technology for human interaction and intimacy. And this is part of Dr.Turkle's warning to us:

    "Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring."

    Loneliness is a much deeper feeling, it can be about being alone in the crowd. It is a sense of being understood, cared about, and belonging. That requires a level of intimacy technology does not establish, but it might be able to sustain. Whether the technology is even available to the most vulnerable is also a concern as well.
    What is the value of a hug, or its effect of on the body? Can technology really turn off the cortisol and turn on the oxytocin in our brains.
    "Reach out and touch someone," was advertising slogan from awhile back. Unless an APP can lead to the promise of face to face interaction, this is what we crave, what's the point ?
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      Oct 24 2012: Thanks for your insights Theodore! "lead to the promise of face-to-face interaction" is exactly what we want to achieve! I just answered with a new comment, tell me what you think of it!
  • Nov 19 2012: Hugo - awesome idea. I am a huge proponent of technology and innovation, yet I find the current social hype of quantity over quality to be quite disheartening. I've removed all of my accounts from such sites, simply because "interacting" with "friends" left me feeling, well, empty. That interaction usually amounted to '+1' or 'Like' clicks. How does that deepen my relationship with these friends? It doesn't.

    So, to sum that up, again - awesome idea. I think it's great. Now, I have a question for you:

    Without getting straight into your implementation and IP, how do you imagine people can connect in a meaningful manner that doesn't seem outdated in today's world? You mention real life interactions, yet we have that capability with app-invoking devices, such as making a phone call, video chat, or texts. Where will your app reside in the continuum of "old-fashioned" phone calls, and the current fad of "interaction" known as a Like button?
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      Nov 21 2012: We believe that for relationships to blossom we need to have real life interactions. So we need to spend less time reading and liking statuses online and more time with people in real life.

      We might have 500 friends on Facebook. Yet, we end up either always seeing the same 4-5 people, or seeing nobody.

      Why? Because texting our best friends to go out is easy, and because Facebook isn't the right place for us to shout "Who's up for sushis tonight?". We want to create that place, that comfort zone!

      http://getpeople.co if you want us to ping you when it's available!
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    Nov 17 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX_pZTlERaI

    too many people are too busy looking in their phones. i made a policy that no phone use in my clothing store, so many come in and instead of shopping, they are just looking in their phones, they are so busy with that so they don't even look at the sign saying no phone use at the entry. smart phones are making this whole thing even worse. why do they bother coming in when they are not looking at anything but their phones.
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      Nov 21 2012: Yes, we want the people to use more their phones to meet up with friends in real life, and less liking, commenting and sharing statuses! We're ready to ship in 2 weeks on the app store!
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    Oct 24 2012: We have an example in mind: It’s tuesday, 7pm. You get home from work, and feel like doing something tonight. You’ll probably end up sending 2 or 3 texts message to your closest friends to find out if they have anything planned, and if they feel like joining you for a drink. Chances are they might have already planned something, or they just don’t want to go out.

    So what happens is that you end up either going out with the same 3-4 people you are the closest with, or end up staying at home liking and commenting statuses.

    Why? Because it’s easy and not demanding/akward/scary to text close friends, you don’t feel that much turned down when they don’t want to hang out. Yet you might have 500 Facebook friends that might want to hang out. Okay, you may just want to see 30-40 of them, but you never do and often come up with a “Oh, we should totally hang out more often!”. Will you text them this tuesday evening to grab a drink with a few friends? No, it’s too demanding/akward/scary, whatever adjective you use to describe this fear.

    What we want technology to do and what we want to achieve here, is to create a comfort zone between you and those 30-40 people so you can overcome those fears and have easily more real life interactions.

    We are building this app because we never want to miss an opportunity to see the people we want to see, and deepen relationships we have with them.

    Is this a problem you already noticed?
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      Oct 24 2012: No, I did not notice the 'problem' you sketched here, as it does not feel 'demanding/akward/scary' to me to call up my friends to ask them out or invite them in for a meeting.

      What you are suggesting seems like an 'availability lighthouse signal' sent into a dark digital network of 'friends' who then may respond if their availability settings are switched on 'receiving' or 'I like to go out, but I just don't know with whom'...

      So what this app does, in my view, is actually preventing one on one communication, as it more or less just anonymously indicates that one wish to go out and that this one is just to lazy to directly contact their people, friends of his or her choice.

      Sending out 'I am available tonight, who is joining me' actually indicates that there is no vital communication going on in the network of friends of that person who is sending this signal, otherwise there was no need to do so.

      So I still don't see any advantage how this app would be able to deepen any relationship, as it does not eliminate the cause nor overcomes the reason of this 'isolation'.
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        Oct 24 2012: Thank you very much for your time, this is amazing to brainstorm on a TED forum on an idea created from a TED talk! This 'availability lighthouse signal' you are talking about, we want it to be directed to a network of people you want to see, people you care about, not a dark digital network. We think that we have too many 'friends' on facebook, and that this will not be the appropriate place to shout our availability. We want to create that space.

        This is great feedback you are giving us here Lejan, and as we are always changing stuff to create something meaningful, do you have an email address I can reach you on?
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          Oct 25 2012: It seems to me that our understanding of 'friends' is quite different, which probably is the reason, why I still see no valuable point in your 'app'.

          It also seems that you have no clear definition on this 'friend' term itself, as it changes in your descriptions quite often:

          a) '... people you already know and that you want to see'

          b) '... texts message to your closest friends'

          c) '... 500 Facebook friends'

          d) '... just want to see 30-40 of them'

          e) '... people you want to see, people you care about'

          In this, b) and e) is what I would consider my friends and as I wrote earlier, I need no app to get in touch with them.

          And even though I have no c) and d) type 'friends', out of 500, I would not consider them 'friends' at all and the use of this meaningful word in this context is nothing but corrosive to its original meaning.

          Type a) people could be seen either as 'friends' or 'acquaintances' which in respect of the closeness of relation, is different to me.

          So in your given ' Tuesday, 7pm' scenario, all my friends would be busy, as you described it, so how is your app gonna help me?

          The only thing it could do, as I pictured before, is to send out this 'availability lighthouse signal' to an online audience, which, as my friends are not available, has to be seen simply and only as 'Plan B' type of people in this specific context. However, those people, I don't know as well and this then is what makes it, as you described it, 'demanding/akward/scary' to contact them.

          Yet you claim your app to help 'relationships to blossom' and to have 'real life interactions', yet what it only does is to send an anonymous 'availability signal' into a radnom 'Plan B' audience which I actually don't really 'want to see' and 'care about', because, if I would, I would not consider it 'demanding/akward/scary' just to call and ask them.

          Again I am not getting the point and this app only appears as a transponder to spread a 'signal of desperation' into a second choice mob.
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          Oct 25 2012: P.S. You can follow the link in my profile 'Send Lejan an email' to contact me.
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      Oct 24 2012: Is this different from tweeting your friends to tell them you are at central park near the playground and you would love to see them?

      If your new component is that it "deepens" the relationship, you might want to describe in a small way what you think the app would contribute.

      No one questions the value of deepening relationships, but some might doubt that an app is the best or a valuable vehicle for that.

      You also might consider, as you and your friends may be very attached to your phones, whether there is a better way of doing this without phones. Try this exercise.
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        Oct 24 2012: Thanks again for your time Fritzie, thrilled to have that kind of thoughtful feedback! We basically think that people need to stop spending evenings commenting and liking statuses, and start hanging out more, not only with their best friends, but also more easily with people they want to see, but don't see that often because they are afraid to ask out (on a friendship level). Let's say you and I meet and spend a great time at a party. There are a lot of chance we won't hang out and grab a coffee afterwards, because asking out is awkward and demanding. We want to change that. Do you have any email address so I can privately and concretely explain the solution we thought of? Thanks again!
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          Oct 24 2012: I encourage you to do what you think is most effective to move your social group in the direction of more in person connection.

          I am in a generation that tends more toward in-person connections, whether in person or on the phone, than to "liking," but I can see that you believe that your app will assist the younger and more phone-bound set to detach from their phones. And doing this by phone obviously seems to you the best bridge for your target audience.

          The concept of target audience is key, I think, for commercial products or even free consumer products. As I am not on Facebook and do not have a smartphone, I would not be part of the audience whose views are highly relevant.

          I hope your idea proves valuable for your friends as a starting point.
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      Oct 24 2012: I have forwarded you an email via your TED profile with my thought on your APP idea.
  • Oct 23 2012: Good idea. Right on! Go for it. Succeed. Fritzie makes a good point-"getting together in real life and spending time with people."
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      Oct 24 2012: Thank you Rhona, we are thrilled to read that! We totally agree with Fritzie on this. I just answered with a new comment, tell me what you think of it!
  • Oct 22 2012: It sounds like a nice project, but we do have phones & Skype. How will this be different?
    Tried to go to your Ping but it wouldn't show up.
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      Oct 24 2012: Thanks for your comment! I just answered with a new comment, tell me if it answer your questions! What happened with the URL? Couldn't get in?