Improving Your Social Life One Gadget at a Time

New technologies increase your popularity -- all it takes is squelching your pride

| February 1, 2007

The risk of seeming uncool is shamefully important to many of us. We worry about being popular, fitting in, staying current on the latest fads -- anxieties that stretch back to elementary school and only begin to ease once we're too old to care. With the prevalence of text messages, social networking websites, iPods, BlackBerries, digital cameras, and blogs, it's getting harder to keep up in today's techno-trendy world. But just as technology can complicate your self-image, it can also help you fake your way to coolness.

Social networking sites continue to reign as the most popular measures of popularity around. But for some people, it's not enough to have a handful of real-life friends and some favorite local bands filling out their friends lists. That's where comes in handy. Starting March 1, users of MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster can pay $0.99/month for friend requests and comments from muscle-bound men and bikini-clad women. The profiles are fake, but the comments are real -- written by the subscribers themselves.

If the internet isn't handy for a quick ego boost, you can always use your cell phone. offers a free service that sends you up to five prearranged phone calls from a phony man, woman, cousin, or boss. The recordings ask generic questions and make friendly chit chat, an interruption that makes you look important -- or gives you an exit strategy -- at just the right time. reports that Alice Wang, a student of Design Interactions at the Royal College of Art in London, has crafted a similar fake dialer: the 'popular mobile.' It's set to beep every so often, to make those around you think you've just gotten a new text message. Other creations of her interactive art project, dubbed Peer Pressure, include a printer that weeds through your emails and prints out party invitations and complimentary letters meant to generate positive rumors about you throughout the office; dual-sided headphones that project hip music outward, while playing what you actually like inward; and the 'fast typing keyboard,' designed with extra clacking noises for those who are embarrassed about their slow typing.

For those who aren't vain, but just plain lonely, a prototype of a new video technology from Accenture pairs up dinner companions. Users -- whom the company expects to be mostly the elderly and their friends and family -- communicate through a large, interactive screen that's hooked up to a broadband internet connection and placed in their dining room. Then, as Roger Highfield of Britain's explains, 'a computer program runs through a directory of pre-registered family members and friends to find someone who is 'available for dinner' -- or, at least, a conversation.' That makes one social technology out there that's using real human beings.

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