John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Find out the locations of all the people you direly want to avoid.
Does human interaction make you want to crawl under a pile of pillows, like a terrified bedroom groundhog? Then the app Cloak is perfect for you: It uses social-media services to sense the locations of your acquaintances, so you can plan to be far, far away.
Cloak promises to give its users an "Incognito Mode" for going out in public. "Cloak scrapes Instagram and Foursquare to let you know where all your friends, 'friends,' and nonfriends are at all times so you never have to run into that special someone," reads the pitch on iTunes, where it's available for free. "Think of it as the antisocial network."
The interface is subtly funny: It shows people you know as tiny heads in bubbles aligned over a street grid, so you can chart a route through them like Pac-Man evading the scary ghosts:
For those worried they might forget to check their phone every minute of the day, and wind up staring into the face of a high-school girlfriend or that stalkerish guy from work, there's also an alert feature: The app will ping you should an especially squirm-inducing person enters your geographic safety zone.
Over at Treehugger, Derek Markham expresses a few reservations about this technology:
In the light of our habit of oversharing, and of connecting to people on social media that we wouldn't otherwise hang out with, some part of this antisocial app makes sense to me, because we don't always want to connect in real life with everyone in our social network. However, it really does beg the question of why we want to connect with others in the digital world, while wishing we could avoid them in the physical world.
I would add one more criticism – if you're this concerned about bumping into someone you'd rather not, you don't need an app. Just don't go outside, ever.