MIT’s Social Experiment Lets Two Strangers Swap Lives For 20 Days


The project aims to gives people a fresh perspective on life.

Ross Brooks
  • 9 may 2014

Most of our social circles have been carefully selected over the years, which can sometimes make it difficult to connect with new people, and see things from a fresh perspective. The Playful Systems group from MIT’s Media Lab aims to change all of that with a new app called 20 Day Stranger. For 20 days, you share in the details of a complete stranger’s life, including information such as where they go and when they get out of bed. There’s one catch though, you will never learn the person’s name, and you can only send them a single message when the 20 days is up.

The point of the app is to increase compassion and understanding between strangers who have never met, and most probably never will.

“This is about finding a way of opening a window,” said Kevin Slavin, director of the MIT Media Lab’s Playful Systems group. “The idea isn’t to make your life transparent, it’s to give just enough to wonder and imagine and ultimately, to care.”


Information shared with the app is intentionally vague, which not only helps to protect privacy, but is also integral to the experience. It can access services such as FourSquare, Instagram and Google Maps, as well as send photos that have been taken where the stranger has been. Without any geolocation data, or other identifying information, it’s almost impossible to track the stranger down.

“We’re not trying to tell a story with 100% accuracy,” Slavin says. “What we’re trying to do is lift out a story with enough texture and detail to provoke you to imagine a real life somewhere else, happening right now, tied to yours.”

Unlike other apps such as Secret and Whisper, which users can use to post anonymous notes, there is less potential for this platform to be abused. Currently, 20 Day Stranger is still in beta testing, but the hope is that it will eventually make its way onto the app store. Because of the anonymous nature of the app, it’s unlikely to be an idea that can make much money, but then again, not everything in the world is made with profit as the end goal.

20 Day Stranger

[h/t] Boston Herald, FastCoDesign


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