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This product image provided by Apple Inc., shows the new Apple iPhone 4. (AP Photo/Apple Inc.) ** NO SALES ** (Associated Press)
This product image provided by Apple Inc., shows the new Apple iPhone 4. (AP Photo/Apple Inc.) ** NO SALES ** (Associated Press)

Never drunk dial your ex again Add to ...

It's Friday night and you're soused. You stir and realize your ex-boyfriend hasn't returned the bumbling text you sent him last weekend. You lurch to your computer, crack your knuckles and craft another screeching missive. Deed done, you pass out. Morning finds you with just a hazy memory of the act - followed by mortified horror.

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What if technology could have saved you from yourself? A host of new apps and software is endeavouring to shield us from our lascivious and drunken alter-egos in the digital age.

Last week, Apple won a patent application in the United States on technology that would prevent users from sending or receiving nasty texts - offensive messages could be returned to sender or deleted outright. The patent is being pushed for parents of sexting youngsters, but could work just as well for naughty co-workers abusing company-owned mobile devices.

Other technology appears to favour the philanderer: Launched in February, an iPhone app called TigerText (no relation to Tiger Woods, honest) automatically deletes texts after a recipient has read them, presumably so that the lurid contents never make it to the tabloids, or the spouse. The cost? A mere $2.50 (U.S.) a month - not much for "stupidity insurance," as a Time article puts it.

Founder Jeffrey Evans told Time that TigerText wasn't developed with cheaters in mind, but all of us: "People text like they talk," he said. "And some of the things they say, taken out of context, can come back to haunt them."

According to textPlus, a group texting app, nearly 40 per cent of texters admit they've accidentally sent a text to the wrong person. Ten per cent say they send a "mistext" as frequently as once a month, including booty calls to family members.

Those under the influence seem most in need of save-me-from-myself help: A website called mydrunktexts.com has compiled a mountain of the unfortunate notes. Sample: "He's really hot. I think he's gonna be my reason to shave this winter."

And on Facebook, the Drunken Text Appreciation Society has attracted more than 400,000 members. The fan page was started up by Andrew Smith: "I was at university. I woke up one Saturday morning - late afternoon, really - after a heavy Friday night, looked at my phone just to see a whole litany of disgraceful text messages," said Mr. Smith, managing director of Ipso Facto, a British public relations firm.

To the rescue rides Don't Dial (drunk dialling protection): "When you left for the bar," posits the website, "you had no intention of e-mailing your boss, texting your ex or calling your crush. Then someone ordered tequila shots." The app blocks all the "usual suspects from your contact list" for up to 24 hours. It can also assign a friend as the "designated dialler" who sets a password for the evening.

Bad Decision Blocker (tagline: "Protecting You from Yourself") also jams outgoing calls, texts and e-mails to the more dicey contacts in your iPhone address book for a time frame of your choice. "Cellphones have become inanimate enablers, facilitating socially and professionally crippling accidents and decisions," the Bad Decision Blocker website reads.

Google's solution to sloshed users was far nerdier. An antidote perhaps to beer goggles, Mail Goggles asked those itching to send e-mails in the dead of night to solve math questions before granting them access to their Gmail accounts. Long division stopped them cold.

Manufacturers want in on the game. LG Group developed the LP4100 mobile phone with a built-in breathalyzer: The phone can be programmed to block certain numbers if you blow over 0.08 per cent blood alcohol content.

But it doesn't take a mickey of gin - straight - to behave badly in the digital age. With the click of a mouse, you can find yourself trolling the exhaustive Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts of your happily married ex-boyfriend. For that folly there's Ex-Blocker, software that sweeps your Internet free of traces of the dreaded former paramour.

"This is the first [digital]tool to allow what we've been doing ritually for years, which is purge and expunge someone from our lives," Leslie Bradshaw, president of Jess3, the creative agency that launched Ex-Blocker, says from Washington, D.C.

Users type in links to their exes' online accounts, and the software hides all evidence of their existence from the Web, either as bars of white on the copy or a pop-up that covers the entire computer screen. Nearly 9,000 offending exes have been concealed since July.

As for why so many succumb to the temptation of using technology as a voyeuristic (and self-sabotaging) tool, Ms. Bradshaw says: "It's deeply rooted in curiosity and jealousy. Those are two carnal things that drive it."

Another factor is the sheer ease: "The barrier has been reduced basically to zero. … You can be your own private investigator. As long as you know how to search, you're off to the races."

Beyond Ex-Blocker, a more sweeping erasure of your digital crumbs may soon be at hand: Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt has envisioned a near future where people would be entitled to change their names to dodge the high jinks of their youth, many of which are now catalogued online.

"On one hand, you don't want your embarrassing moments to come back and haunt you when you're 50. At the same time, you don't want to erase your whole life as you go through it," says Ramona Pringle, an adjunct professor of new media at Ryerson University and interactive media producer for Digital Nation, a PBS Frontline documentary .

She says many of our missteps have to do with the immediacy of tech: "They used to say write a letter and sleep on it. Now we're so bombarded with things we don't necessarily have the time to allow ourselves the right response. It's the BlackBerry mentality of, 'Oh - I have an e-mail, I need to respond to it right away.' "Although she considers tools such as Ex-Blocker a good "digital coping mechanism," Prof. Pringle says it's less about gizmos and more about media literacy.

Drew Olanoff, resident "textpert" at textPlus, agrees, and adds: "People are quick to blame technology for carelessness, but really, outlets like texting, e-mail and Facebook are just extensions of our everyday communications and should be treated with the same levels of thoughtfulness we use in our everyday interactions. Ask yourself, 'Would I say to a person's face what I'm about to send in a text message?' If the answer's no, back away from the device."

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

 

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