'Anti-social' media app a big hit with people wanting to avoid friends

Hell is Other People calculates 'safe zones' for those who want to walk alone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 11:13am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 June, 2013, 11:23am

Social media has long been marketed as a way to help us keep connected with other people – but now there is a social media app to help you actively avoid and keep away from your friends.

Hell is Other People is a web app that takes your friends’ check-in data on Foursquare and calculates an “optimally-distanced location”, highlighting various “safe zones” to make sure you don’t bump into them.

Scott Garner, the maker of this app, agreed to an e-mail interview with the Post.

“I actually really hate social media,” says Garner. “I had to sign up for a social media site and talk to people to get them to be my friends on that site so that I could avoid them.”

Hell is Other People is "an experiment in anti-social media". Named after a quote from existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, it’s partially a satire, Garner says, but admits that this new app is also a commentary on his disdain for social media and an “exploration of his own difficulties with social anxiety”.

“I often have difficulty interacting with people, and moving to New York City last autumn was very overwhelming for me," he explains. "The fact that the idea resonates with so many people just shows that I’m not the only one feeling this way."

At present more than one thousand people globally have connected their Foursquare accounts to this app, but most of them come from large American cities, in particular New York City.

“I was originally drawn to Foursquare because its focus is very location heavy,” he says. “And also because one of its co-founders, Dennis Crowley, actually began working on it as his thesis project at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, where I am currently a [Master’s] student.”

However Garner admits he doesn’t think social media is necessarily a “bad thing”.

“I also think that many people are reacting to the current over-connected state of the world by swinging in the opposite direction – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.

“But I do think that it’s important to think about how these technologies are affecting our lives – particularly in the way we interact with others face-to-face.”

Garner is currently considering adding new functions and features, and adding Facebook and Twitter would broaden the reach, though the app itself already works in Asia, says Garner, “And it will elsewhere, so long as it’s a place in the world Foursquare supports.”

He says: “In the end, I am much more driven to making interesting things than useful things. I have a long history as a programmer and often had to solve practical problems using technology, now I’m much more interested in exploring ways to approach impractical, philosophical problems in the same way.”

Garner expressed his surprise that his work was so popular. 

“There seem to be many others out there having trouble dealing both with people face-to-face and online. It’s a tricky time to be an individual.”