Thursday Salute to Originals: Getting to Know You

If you are like many people, you rely on your smart devices in more ways than you even fathom. Losing your phone can feel almost like missing a limb, a split panic between being utterly out of touch with the world and fearing that someone out there has all your key contacts, to do lists, music preferences. The conundrum of the modern world is our reliance on technology to manage our personal lives and our reluctance to share that information.


Meet “Karen”, a digital life coach with a questionable understanding of boundaries. The “Karen” app was created by Blast Theory, a group of interactive media artists who used crowdfunding to propel the app’s development. A combination of a story and a game, the plot unfolds as the user responds to Karen’s prodding and each of you share more about your inner workings. Sort of a choose-your-own-adventure guided by your very own psychologist and with a built in personality test at the end?

The concept of the app explores similar notions as the film “Her”, the Spike Jonze film starring Joaquin Phoenix, where technology “knows” a great deal of information about us. “We feel it’s our job as artists to pose questions about this new world where technology is ever more personalised and intrusive. We love having our services tailored to us and we’re scared of the price we’re paying for that personalization”, says Blast Theory.


The Karen experience lasts a week or two, and uses a combination of data tracking and user replies to deduce how you think and who you are. Complete with scheduled phone calls that log your responses, Karen becomes progressively nosier as she learns – or should we say stalks – more about you and your behaviors on your smartphone. The experiment concludes with a report assessing your decisions throughout your interactions with Karen, specifically for five categories: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. And you might just be (creepily) surprised at how much an app can learn about you!


The app was released today for download. Users can play for free and will be prompted to pay a small charge to access the psychological profile at the end. It will also be featured at Tribeca Film Festival’s Storyscapes competition. Whether you brush elbows with Karen on your phone or at the festival, we’re sure that the interaction can point out a multitude of “aha” moments about your own relationship to technology and privacy. Because, after all, what this app proves is that it is not necessarily the data that’s the problem. The problem occurs when that information falls into the wrong hands – human or not!

Sources: New York Times, Blast Theory
Image credits: Blast Theory, Fast Company