Are humans too addicted to their smartphones? I’ll leave the question hanging and point you to an art project in chat app form: Die With Me is a (paid) app that can only be used for chatting when your phone (and your interlocutors’ phones) are at 5% or less battery left.
The app is an “art project”, says co-creator Dries Depoorter — the artist half of the team behind Die With Me, along with web dev, David Surprenant.
It’s possible the pair have inadvertently stumbled on the solution for tech addiction: Apps that only function within very specific and bounded windows.
Certainly configurable time windows in which specific apps cannot be accessed would be a handy OS feature for managing device compulsion and dialing down of an evening.
But why a battery-bounded chat app? How did they come up with the idea for Die With Me?
“I’m an artist working with technology. Most of my work is about surveillance, social media and privacy,” says Depoorter. “I always try to come up with original ideas telling something about those themes” — flagging, by way of “perfect example”, another of his works: A lottery ticket vending machine where you can win up to 25,000 fake followers for your Instagram and Twitter account.
He says he got lost in a city a few times after he couldn’t find his way back to his hotel because his phone had died. “I think everyone with a smartphone landed in this sort of situation once. For me this was very inspiring,” he adds.
“As a digital artist I really wanted to do something with this feeling. For a long time I had the technique in my head of an app that you can only use when you have less than 5% battery.
“But I had no idea to make the app interesting. Later I came up the idea to make it a public chat room.”
Why did they think the idea would resonant with smartphone users? “I think because apps like this don’t exist and I think it’s a new feeling we all can recognize,” he says. “Having a low battery on your feels.. It feels like you depended on technology.”
After you’ve paid $0.99 to download the iOS (or Android) app — a price-tag is necessary to fund server costs for the project — you have to wait until you’ve got 5% or less battery left before you are able to enter a nickname into the app and be ushered into its minimalist, ephemeral public chatroom.
At this point you’ll have an average of around four minutes’ chat time — depending on your device and battery — before your phone literally pulls the plug on the conversation. (Or, well, I guess you could have a spare battery pack on standby and keep microdosing as the battery % dips to try to maintain the connection.)
Why did they settle on 5% exactly? “We tried to find a balance so you can use the app but you also have stress to use it,” says Depoorter. “And we know for iPhone if you go less than 10% it can die every moment.”
“Most of the time you end up with around 30 people in the chatroom,” he adds. “They go and new people get in. Sometimes it can take a while because for some phones the prediction of the % battery is not very good. We saw people sharing tips how to stay in for a long time.”
If no one else happens to be in dire battery straits when you are, and you find yourself alone in the chatroom, you can scroll back through earlier messages — or leave a message for a future transient user to find.
Not all messages are going to be nice, clearly, given the anonymous transience involved — much like reading graffiti left on the inside of a public toilet door — and some reviews do complain of racist and sexist language being bandied about. Others say the app can be hilarious.
Depoorter says his favorite chat message so far is the entirely on message observation that: “this app is like the life, new people come and go away and you forget them and when you’re gone you’re forgotten”.
This is his favorite conversation:
– Malk (4%): actually it’s a bit sad. I need my alarm clock in the morning. So when I die I have to wait for it to charge and turn on
– Pablo(3%): dont forget!
– Malk(4%): yup
– Pablo(3%): i wont you to.lost your job tomorrow!
– Malk(4%): i have none
So Is Die With Me going to live long (and they hope prosper) or is the idea for the art project to be ephemeral too — and the app wink out of existence in the not-at-all-distant future?
No straight answer from Depoorter on that but he does say they’re “working hard on a few exiting big updates!”, adding: “We can’t tell anything :) But we can’t wait to share the update!”
Presumably, given all the exclamation marks, he meant to type ‘exciting’ not “exiting”. Albeit, either word almost works given the existential context.