No you did not read that wrongly. And yes it is all real.
Have you ever wondered how it feels like to have a real-life follower tracing and shadowing your every move? “Follower”, which has been called “the creepiest social network ever, is actually an art project started by Lauren McCarthy, who teaches at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In an age where one’s self-validation or importance seems to rely on our number of online followers, this performance project seeks to investigate our feelings towards attention and surveillance.
This ongoing ‘performance’ which uses New York City as a base for its project, invites willing participants to sign up on their site by answering to McCarthy’s “why I want to be followed”/”why you deserve to be followed” before her team decides if the participant is worthy to be selected. Available to only iPhone users, once selected, the participant would be sent a link to install an iOS app which would provide the follower with the GPS coordinates and a map of the person followed. The following only lasts for one day; if the participant is ‘lucky’ enough to be selected, they would receive a notification stating “Your follower is now following you. You may not see them, but they are there, following everything you do” on the morning of the following and another at the end of the day to notify when the following has ended, together with a candid photo memento of the Follower performance.
How to sign up on the Follower site
Candid shots from Follower surveillances. (Source: City Lab)
Why would anyone want to be followed? Well, according to the website’s FAQ, a Follower is meant to “act as a passive observer and remote companion”. The Follower site describes the experience as:
“We imagine it might offer some other form of interaction or relationship you have not had before, perhaps a way to experience new feelings, a different way of being in the world. Maybe it adds a little excitement or magic to your day, maybe it gives you a different perspective on your life.”
One could also apply to be the Follower instead of the one being followed. Naturally, this seems to highlight several questions; how could you assess if someone wanted to follow strangers around? Could you maintain your own safety when you are tracking a stranger around for a whole day? And how can you ensure that it would not be just another creepy location-based app that any future creepo may exploit?
McCarthy is quite aware of the dangers allowing any random stranger to follow the participants around. Thus, the application page to be a Follower merely serves to asks the hypothetical question, “Would you rather be followed or a follower?”. McCarthy aim is to spark a dialogue on privacy, surveillance, security, and interaction technologies, and (thankfully) there will only be one Follower, McCarthy herself.
In the past month, McCarthy has already carried out 15 Follower performances, with claims of all positive feedbacks. However, due to the functions and nature of the app, Apple raised many queries and an Apple employee had also questioned if the Follower app was akin to a stalker app. Unsurprisingly, the Follower app took weeks before it could obtain approval from the App Store. McCarthy contested that her Follower app was no different from downloading a service/account based apps such as Uber, Taskrabbit or Lyft which all involves some of form of a service performed by strangers. However, instead of a stranger offering the service of a ride or performing your house errands and tasks, why couldn’t there be an app for those longing for a stranger to follow you as well?
“There’s something both exciting and intense I feel each morning not knowing where they may take me. I follow them all day watching, starting to imagine what they are like, what they are thinking and saying, trying to guess where they might go next. There is something strangely intimate about the whole thing for me. By the end of the day, I feel as though I know them, and we have had a prolonged experience together. I’ve followed them through the rain, watched them play tennis, eat with friends, watch a movie, shop for groceries, walk to and from their homes. At times it seems they’re doing things just for me, or maybe they even notice me, but I can’t ever be sure. And at the end of the day, I leave them, having never actually interacted with each other, and that’s the last contact. The theme of following is something explored by various artists over the years — Vito Acconci, Sophie Calle, Jill Magid, to name a few. Today, this is complicated further by our desire for followers and connectivity, and the normalization of surveillance and reliance on sharing economy apps and services.”
Creepy or exciting? You be the judge. With aims by McCarthy to expand the service to other places in the world besides New York, do you guys think this ‘social network’ would pick up the trend? And would you rather be a Follower or a followee?
 City Lab
 Creative Applications Network
 Fast Co.Exist
 The Next Web