Before computers, messaging was labour-intensive. You needed a mailman, telegraph operator, homing pigeon or – the gold standard – somebody to perform your singing telegram. Artist and filmmaker Miranda July clearly yearns for that old-school contact, and has brought it back via a messaging app that enlists a nearby stranger to receive and deliver, out loud, your message to your friend.
All three parties must have July's Somebody app on their iPhones, and obviously all must be up for experiencing a random unknown element in personal communications.
You write a message, search for another Somebody user in the vicinity of the intended recipient, and send the text to that stranger. He or she finds your friend and delivers your message aloud.
The app, sponsored by Prada's Miu Miu fashion line, launched last week at the Venice Film Festival, along with a sweet 10-minute film that shows a few possible scenarios. One features a lone woman (played by July) in a restaurant, being stood up by a man whose texted apology, read out by an anxious waitress, morphs into a marriage proposal.
"Your message is like a script," says July in a release. "You can include gestures and actions in it – and the deliverer is, in a way, playing a role. It's kind of complicated and weird, and it's the opposite to the very efficient means of communication we've developed in the last few years, but it's a very open and fun experience."
Somebody is the latest of July's stranger-involving social art projects, one of which developed into a book (It Chooses You) and another into a film (The Future). Her best-known work, the 2005 film Me and You and Everyone We Know, toyed with the stranger theme more conventionally, through an online intimate relationship between a hip gallery curator and a "man" who was actually a little boy.
Somebody confronts us with the personal unknown directly, daring us to look a stranger in the eye and perform a text for them.
Miranda July's Somebody app is available for free from the iTunes store. Her short film Somebody is streaming on YouTube.