MFA to Become Hotspot for New iPhone App ‘Somebody’

Send a message using this brand-new app, and a middleman will intercept and deliver it in person.

Texting at the MFA is about to get way more fun—or interesting, or weird, depending on how you want to look at it.

That’s because the Museum of Fine Arts has signed on to become a hotspot for “Somebody,” an exciting, unpredictable new messaging app that debuted on the App Store on Thursday—sorry Android users, this one’s for iPhone users only for now.

Designed by Miranda July with support from Miu Miu, “Somebody” is a messaging service with a big twist. Rather than texts being passed directly from your phone to your friend’s, messages sent via Somebody go to a person located close to the recipient. That middleman is tasked with delivering the message IRL—that’s “in real life,” FYI. They even interpret the emotion of the message as indicated by the sender.

The possibilities are endless, with outcomes ranging from elation to broken heartedness, as demonstrated in July’s hilarious Somebody movie:

The Somebody app is designed to work anywhere, although its success rate depends on the number of people who participate; hence, hotspots. The MFA is one of several museums around the country that have signed on, and Somebody will be featured as a part of an upcoming contemporary exhibit at the MFA titled Conversation Piece.

“When the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art first opened, it was very important to Joyce Linde that the galleria spaces be social spaces,” says curator Liz Munsell in a phone interview. These areas—downstairs they open to Taste Cafe and the museum bookstore and shop—serve as more of a public space than a silent gallery, Munsell says.

Following Linde’s concept for the galleria spaces, Munsell developed the idea for Conversation Piece, an exhibit that will comprise everyday contemporary objects that relate to the human body, such as chairs, TVs, and tables. These objects are activated in various ways to “disrupt” the way we see them in our day-to-day lives. Munsell says the museum even hopes to hire a choreographed dancer to perform in front of a curtain piece at select times to bring that particular work to life.

As the title implies, the exhibit is meant to inspire conversation and awaken us from the mundane. The Somebody app is a perfect example of this.

Somebody only works as well as the number of people who download it. Take risks! Life gets boring if you don’t.

“Smartphones are everyday objects too. They’re private objects that keep you in your zone, but the app makes it public. It’s an impetus [for the messenger] to continue the conversation,” Munsell says. From a social point of view, she points out, it’s the middleman who must step up to the occasion, approach someone they may not know, and strike up a conversation. Users can also specify in their app settings whether or not they themselves are willing to be called upon as third-party messengers.

Of course, the process for using Somebody is not an exact science. Frequently asked questions that are addressed on the app’s website include, “What if my stand-in can’t find my friend?” and “How do I know a stand-in is trustworthy?”

The answer to the former: Simply ask for more information. The process only works if all three parties have the app and are willing to play along, so the stand-in can message the recipient and say, “Hi, I have a message for you,” to which the recipient can respond, “I am by a Monet wearing an ‘I Heart Van Gogh’ shirt.”

The issue of public safety is also addressed. For this, the Somebody app asks users to rate their messengers after interactions. Over time you can judge potential stand-ins much like you judge restaurants on Yelp, hosts on AirBnB, or drivers on car services like Uber.

That’s also all the more reason to experiment with Somebody while at a designated hotspot like the MFA. Beyond Somebody’s official hotspots, the website also recommends colleges, your office, birthday parties, and concerts as unofficial hotspots. Just tell all attendees that they can download the app, and let the GPS do the rest.

“Somebody only works as well as the number of people who download it,” Munsell point outs. She encourages people to “Take risks! Life gets boring if you don’t.”

 

The Somebody app is now available for free on the App Store. Learn more at somebodyapp.comConversation Piece will open at the MFA on October 10, mfa.org. Somebody app designer Miranda July will take part in the MFA’s Shapiro Celebrity Lecture series in April 2015.

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