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The app that SmilesBack

| Friday, February 28, 2014

“SmileBack contains age-restricted material. Tap OK to confirm that you are 17 or over.”

This was not exactly the kind of message I wanted to pop up when I was downloading an app. Visions of helicopter parents danced in my head, but the helicopters were so loud that I couldn’t hear the soccer moms and dance dads warn me against the dangers of authorizing SmileBack to access my location and Facebook account.

The assuring messages continued: “We will never post to your wall. Ever.” Wait. Why wouldn’t I want my friends, family and pre-school teacher knowing that I was getting dates by submitting my heavily edited profile picture to guys between the ages of 18 and 35+? Oh right — I forgot about my dignity.

The app continued to be quite forward. It winked at me to convince me to link my profile to my nonexistent Instagram account, then notified me that someone had already smiled at me. I was feeling pretty good about myself before I realized my admirer was one of five cartoon guys that did not exist. The app sent me an automatic sample so that I would know what to do when someone actually wanted to talk to me.

I was cool with all of this. It wasn’t as if I already confided in my roommate that someone in my brother dorm must have fallen in love with my picture, decided take me to the Dome Dance and planned a proposal under the Lyons arch.

The app asked me to guess which of the five cartoon guys chose to “smile” at me. In reality, none of them did. These imaginary men would be forced to hit on me if I had a mustache, was eighty years old and weighed 500 pounds. I made a mental note to download the app in a few decades, when I’ll most likely break up with broccoli for brownies.

I inspected the cartoon characters closely, and as any good girl would, tapped on the one that most resembled Kristoff from “Frozen.” Then I realized that my pick was 23, sported an earring and was interested in both guys and girls. “Jonathan Y” was not exactly the strapping young lad my mother would have picked for me, but college was a time to experiment and get out of one’s comfort zone, right?

Well, I was wrong. Imaginary Jonathan was not the one who “smiled” at me. Luckily, though, I picked Jason R next, and he turned out to be my true love. SmileBack encouraged me to “SEND HIM A MESSAGE!” I started my seduction by telling him secrets about himself that he never knew.

“You’re a cartoon.” I typed. I deleted the period. I took a deep breath and sent it. I knew he would respond immediately; incorrect grammar is such a turn-on.

“Hey! I’m just a cartoon ;)” James R. sent back. “Go to the ‘People’ tab and send a smile to a real person!” I could hear his nonexistent voice dripping in condescending charm.

A cartoon rejected my smile. I had hit a new low. This cartoon smiled at me when he saw my picture, and sent me to talk to “real people” when he read what I had to say. Well, if cartoon boys like their girls smiling and silent, I don’t want their smiles anyways. I deleted the app immediately.

Okay, maybe I looked through the guys in the area and then deleted it. Or waited a few days to see if anyone else would smile at me before I purged it from my phone. But even if they had “smiled” at me, I would not have been up to talk to them. I was still recovering from the James R. debacle. Separation from a guy who “smiled” at you can be hard, especially if you never met him in person. SmileBack taught me a valuable lesson: be careful whom you smile at. They may reject you because you’re a “real person.”

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Erin Thomassen

I am a freshman double majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and French. PLS (aka the Notre Dame Book Club) is the history of ideas through literature, philosophy, math and science. It was the perfect major for me, because I couldn't possibly choose one subject and hurt the other subjects' feelings. French was also a natural pick, since I have been prancing around my house under the pretense of performing ballet for eighteen years. If someone asks me what I do in my free time, I will tell them that I run and read. What I actually do is eat cartons of strawberries and knit lumpy scarves. If you give me fresh fruit, we will be friends. If we become friends, I will knit you a scarf for Christmas. It may be lumpy, but it will be in your favorite color. And if enough people become my friend, lumpy scarves might just become a trend.

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