The Worst Ideas. Updates every Monday!

Your weekly source for terrible ideas.

Category: Communication

Vanquish loneliness and existential dread with this one weird app that doesn’t exist (yet)

The issue:

Sometimes, it’s hard to keep in touch with your friends and family, especially if you live in different cities and time zones.

Proposal:

The solution is quite simple—an app that keeps track of when you last met up with, texted, called, or otherwise contacted your friends and family.

In fact, it could even be integrated directly into your messaging app and phone GPS, so the phone could automatically keep track of which relationships were being maintained. (Both your national government and companies like Google have more than enough information to do this already, but it’s unlikely to be a crowd-pleasing feature, so don’t expect it to show up on your phone any time soon. Fortunately, this still leaves the door open for an enterprising startup to create this program.)

The example program below (Figures 1 and 2) is called “FriendNeglectr” (if that gets trademarked, “Neglectly” and “FriendNeglect.io” are other popular startup-sounding names that could be employed).

friendneglectr-icon

Fig 1: The proposed FriendNeglectr icon.

friendneglectr-emphasis

Fig 2: Here, we see a list of several of your friends in FriendNeglectr, ordered by the time you last saw them. For example, you last met Dave (top) for coffee 4 months ago. But you haven’t seen Alfonso (bottom) in 1.5 years, so the bar is highlighted in red. 

Conclusion:

You should stay in contact with your friend Alfonso, even though the last time you saw him was in court (Fig. 2). Also, since this app doesn’t exist yet, you should develop it.

PROS: Helps you maintain important relationships that might otherwise be neglected due to time and distance.

CONS: Reminds you of the ubiquitous and inescapable surveillance of modern society, filling you with a chilling dread of a future “Orwell’s 1984”-esque world.

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Finally quantify your indolence with the new how-long-have-you-sat-in-it privacy-invading chair modification!

The issue:

Sometimes, you’re looking for a co-worker, and you’d like to know if they’ve gone out to lunch, left for the day already, or haven’t arrived yet.

Normally, you’d have to actually send a text message to that person to ask. But that can be overly intrusive.

chair-plain

Fig. 1: Your coworker’s chair is empty. Did they already leave for the day? Who knows!

Proposal:

With the following chair modification, you will wonder about your coworker’s whereabouts no more!

A normal desk chair can be fitted with a digital timer connected to a pressure sensor. The timer will show when the occupant last sat in the chair, as determined by the pressure sensor (Fig. 2). (The pressure sensor would be identical to the ones used in cars to determine whether or not to deploy the passenger-side airbag).

chair-clock

Fig. 2: The clock on this chair tells you how long it’s been since someone (presumably your co-worker) last sat in it. If it says “18 hours,” then they probably haven’t come into work yet. If it says “5 minutes,” maybe it means they just left for lunch or something.

If your office doesn’t want to spend the money to replace every single office chair, we can also provide an version that just clips onto the back of an existing office chair (Fig. 3).

chair-addon

Fig. 3: This motion sensor (with attached timer) can be clipped to the top of the seat. This will allow existing non-futuristic office chairs to also participate in the “when was this chair last sat in?” system.

Bonus feature #1:

Recharging: The wheels on the chair could be hooked up to a tiny generator, so the chair sensors (presumably these are battery-powered and not plugged in) could be recharged by just rolling the chair around.

Bonus feature #2:

Workplace health: the chair could beep at you if you sit in it for more than a half hour straight, thus reducing health problems from sitting all day.

PROS: You’ll never need to wonder if someone you’re looking for has just stepped out, or if they weren’t even at work at all that day. Excellent for workspaces with flexible work hours or many remote employees.

CONS: Will probably be used as part of an intrusive “employee productivity metric” that will cause people to start putting heavy weights in their chairs to simulate being there all the time, thus preventing this system from working as designed.

Become vexed that you are unable to find a red-headed emoji face!

Background: An emoji overview:

hair

Fig 1: Current Apple emoji skin tones. Available tones vary by emoji font designer (e.g., Google, Microsoft).

Emoji people were originally only available with a light skin tone. Recently, more skin tone options have been added (Fig 1).

However, they are just a recoloring of the original emoji, and thus may not have realistic hair options. For example, the only women’s emoji hair option (as seen above) is “long and straight” and the only men’s hair option is “short and generally indistinct.”

Below, we will propose a method for easily allowing custom colors by using a phone camera, but first let us examine the present emoji situation.

The current state of the art:

family

Fig 2: Emoji families (or possibly “emoji movie theater with low seats, and two children in a row in front of two adults”) currently only exist in this one shade.

santa

Fig 3: unlike an emoji family, Emoji Santa Claus may have varying skin tone.

catFig 4: emoji cats can have multiple facial expressions. The emoji cat is unique among non-human animals in having a wide range of facial expressions.

snakeFig 5: Unlike the cat, the emoji snake has no ability to express emotion. Font limitations may make infinite combinations of facial expressions / skin (or scale) colors impractical, so less popular options (“coral snake that is crying while listening to music on 70s headphones”) are not currently available.

fish

Fig 6: The emoji fish exists in six variants—pufferfish, yellow fish, blue fish, dolphin, lungfish (cartoon), and lungfish (realistic).

Proposal:

Instead of selecting from a list, a user could set an emoji skin / fur / scale tone using the built-in camera in their phone (Fig 7).

emoji_photo

Fig 7: With the cameraphone in their left hand, this tomato-colored user is taking a picture of their right hand for use in the auto-emoji-coloring algorithm. Now the emoji people on this phone will have a tomato option.

emoji_color_animals

Fig 8: Now that we’ve decoupled eye color, hairstyle, hair color, and skin color, it is possible to make any combination of features. These new features can be applied to all animal emoji as well.If you want your cat emoji to be colored the same as your actual cat, you could take a picture of your cat instead of your hand. Perhaps you could even make the “car emoji” the same make and model of your actual car!

Conclusion:

It was apparently possible to add the flags of every country in the world, plus Antarctica (ant), so clearly space is not extremely limited. Perhaps Blue Emoji Cat With Red Whiskers really will be added in a future Unicode update.

PROS: Opens up a new world of hilariously colored animal emoji. Increases employment for font designers and font-related programmers.

CONS: Opens up a new world of font-related bugs. Assumes you’re willing to have a 250 megabyte font of “all combinations of human and animal skin / scale / fur / feather tones, hairstyles, hair colors, and eye colors” in memory on your phone at all times.

Modern “Emoji” characters will become the basis for writing systems of civilizations 1000 years from now.

Background:

Our current alphabet is derived from an ancient system of representational icons. These icons were once pictures of actual objects, but have been simplified to an easier-to-write form over the millennia.

For example, according to the inerrant source of knowledge known as Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_alphabet):

The letter “Q” used to be one of these:

q

This is the head of a needle, called “qop.” Presumably the ancient Phonecian word for “head of a needle” sounded something vaguely like “qop.”

Similarly with “K,” which used to look like this:

k

Supposedly this was the palm of a hand, called “kap.” Just like above, presumably the ancient word for “palm” started with a “k” sound.

Today:

So in the modern era, whenever we want to write out a “k” sound, we draw a tiny pictogram of the palm of a hand, all because the word for “palm” started with a “k” three thousand years ago.

Some letters are indirectly derived from ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

owl

So if we ask why a specific letter is shaped in a certain way, the answer is because it looked like a sketch of an owl that some scribe drew 5000 years ago!

The predicted future:

In the future, we expect that these trends will continue.

In the example below, we see the icon of a floppy disk (which also represents the word “Save”). A floppy disk is a device that was once used by the ancestral people of Silicon Valley to store written knowledge.

Here are two predicted possible evolutions of a new character (the final form of which is based loosely on Chinese characters), which may represent one of three things:

  1. In a fully ideographic system, it would continue to represent the verbto save.”
  2. In a syllabic system, it would represent the syllable “sa” or “say.”
  3. In an alphabetic system, it would represent the sound “sss.”

emoji_evolve_2

Fig 1: In the distant future, the “save” icon (left) will become an ideogram via one of the two paths seen at right. The two paths (top row and bottom row) represent different ways of abstracting away the floppy disk; in the top path (green arrow), the angled edge is exaggerated, while in the bottom path, the metal slide cover is emphasized.

Conclusion:

Just as obsolete iconography of the past continues to live on today (the head of a needle, the Egyptian owl, etc…), our Emoji of the beginning of the third millennium will undoubtedly influence the writing systems of people in the distant future.

PROS: Since this is inescapably our future, it has no “pros.” It merely is.

CONS: As above, there are no cons to this vision of the future. We must simply accept it as destiny.

Phone Call Priority: 9 incredible mistakes you’re making on the phone without even realizing it. Number 4 will bring an icy chill to your heart as you contemplate its true horror.

Background:

Phone woes: when you use text or call someone, there’s no way to differentiate between the following scenarios:

  1. Low priority (not time-sensitive): “Let’s chat, if you have time.”
  2. Medium priority (time-sensitive): “I just showed up at the crowded convention center, but I can’t find you.”
  3. High priority (important and time-sensitive): “Your car is about to be towed, you have 2 minutes to move it!”

The issue:

Unfortunately, all three of the scenarios above result in the same effect on the recipient’s phone: it rings / vibrates in the same manner no matter what.

So an individual at a meeting will get the same low-priority phone alert from “Are you free for lunch?” as “A derailed train car is leaking flammables over by building #3! Run for your life!”

“Call priority” proposal:

We can fix this by allowing the caller to indicate how important their message is.

This could easily be accomplished by:

  1. Making the default “call” or “text” button generate a low-priority message.
  2. Allowing a long-press on the call button to bring up a new set of options for time-sensitive or extremely-urgent messages.

Phone_call_priority

Fig 1: Example of a phone call (or text) button that would also allow a user to (optionally) generate a more emphatic ring on the other end if the call is especially critical. The bubble below the “CALL” text would appear on a long-press of the call button.

There could also be an “extremely low priority” option for text messages that would cause the phone on the other end to not ring / vibrate at all—while this initially seems useless, it is actually similar to sending an email, and would allow people to send frivolous text messages (“so I just saw the director’s cut of snakes on a plane”) without worrying about annoying the recipient.

The full set of options for calls / texts would be:

  1. Normal priority (regular ring / vibration)
  2. Time-sensitive (more emphatic / longer ring and vibration)
  3. Urgent (extremely insistent ring / vibration)
  4. Unimportant (doesn’t ring or vibrate at all, so it has a very low level of “demand”—like an email)

Phone_ring

Fig 2: A phone responding to three different calls. From top to bottom: 1) normal, 2) time-sensitive, 3) urgent.

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The art of conversation:

Since a call is interpreted by many individuals as “hey, stop what you are doing, I need to talk to you right now,” there could be a “call” option that would simply send the recipient a short text message with an “accept / decline” call button.

This way, instead of feeling like calling someone is an imposition on the other individual’s time, it could be seamlessly integrated into the texting system as a polite request. Everyone wins!

Phone_text_message_call

Fig 3: A phone call could be automatically converted into a polite text message, as seen above.

Regarding individuals sending all messages at maximum priority:

Although it would be possible for a person to always send their messages as “urgent,” a phone would have a button to “downgrade” all messages from an individual to regular priority.

Additionally, telemarketers could be forbidden by law from using any of the higher-priority messaging modes.

PROS: Makes phones more convenient and encourages people to feel more comfortable making voice calls.

CONS: Might make it even harder for telemarketers to reach you.