06/08/2011 12:53 am ET Updated May 02, 2012

Apps For The Soul: Rewriting Social Interaction

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Social networking critics and cynics of all stripes, this one's for you: A mobile application that seeks to rewrite the rules of social interaction by allowing people to connect in real time over unusual, unconventional activities.

Here's how it works: Once you download the app -- suitably called Inneract -- onto your iPhone, you decide on an activity you want to share with a stranger. Maybe you want to do the Macarena or perhaps you'd like to share a recipe and cook together or you just want a pat on the back. Then, you look for users close to your location. You send out a message and see who responds. Voila! You've just connected with a fellow human in a way that is both spontaneous and meaningful.

Inneract was created by Lauren McCarthy as part of the thesis for her graduate degree at UCLA. What was meant to be a personal project went viral when someone posted it on social news website Reddit. Since the app's release in May, some 10,000 people have downloaded it. "The idea is to get people to step back from normal patterns of behavior and to re-imagine the way they express themselves or act with others in the world," says McCarthy.

The app is a product of McCarthy's struggles with her own shyness. "Whenever I'm with people I don't know, I'm always thinking of what's expected of me. But social behavior is more flexible than we think," she says.

While the app's relative newness makes it difficult for people to consistently carry out the activities they want (it needs to be more widely used in order to connect people instantly), feedback has been largely positive. Users have invited others to the following activities, among others:
Construct a slip and slide
Have a philosophical discussion about security
Listen to a secret
Read stories
Go for a piggyback ride
Tickle their feet
Quote from a favorite poem

Others have written to McCarthy about Inneract's potential to create change. "Connection on a real level might bring some real community into the world. Kudos and kudos again. Connection to your fellow man in an anonymous context, free of pre-judgements... what more could you want?" wrote one commenter.

The app's sudden success means that McCarthy has been working overtime to remove kinks from the technology. However, she will soon be ready to roll out an Android version of the app. Find out more about Inner Act here.

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