Today we take sharing for granted. At any time, practically anywhere, we can broadcast what we’re seeing, doing, or thinking to more or less everyone we know–and, in some cases, to plenty of people we don’t. Looking at the fantastic success of services like Twitter and Instagram, it’s clear that we’re enjoying the megaphone. So where does this little app called Rando get off limiting our photo sharing to one single person? And a total stranger at that?
At first glance, that core functionality seems so hilariously limited–so backwards in comparison to how sharing is supposed to work–that you might think the app is some sort of early April Fool’s prank. But it’s for real. Rando lets you take one picture, which it then delivers to one of its users, selected at random. They have no way of giving you any feedback, and sender and receiver remain totally unknown to each other the entire time. Every so often, you become that random recipient and get some other user’s picture delivered to your phone.
The idea, the developers explain, was born out of fond memories of the occasional mix-ups that occurred in the days when taking pictures meant dropping off film to be developed. Every so often, some absentminded clerk would slip someone else’s photos in your envelope, and you’d get an unexpected glimpse into some anonymous life. If you’ve ever looked through some old packet of photos at a flea market, you’ll be familiar with this unique mix of voyeurism, mystery, and serendipity.
Rando only gives you a single photo from any given stranger, and only a photo that someone willingly fired into the digital void, so it’s a little less creepy than all that. But once you play with it a bit, you realize that it’s not an entirely ludicrous idea. In fact, it becomes a little bit thrilling.
On a very basic level, there’s something exciting about the way the app strips away everything but the photos themselves. It’s an experience that “offers freedom for users on a number of levels,” says Matt Miller, co-founder of ustwo, the digital design studio that created the app. “No comments, likes, sharing, re-sharing, friends, titles, captions, hashtags–it’s just you and the pictures.” All the images are cropped into small circles, emphasizing the sense that you’re getting an intimate, valuable peek through the keyhole into some distant life.
But Rando’s true value may be what it says about how all this sharing is affecting our photography in the first place. It makes you realize the burden photos can take on when they’re snapped with a final destination of Facebook or Instagram in mind–that nagging sense that they inevitably go out into the world as some kind of social currency.
The intention, Miller says, was to create an experience that was “more about giving than bragging,” and he hopes the app will “get some users reflecting on why they use social media more generally.” Because a stranger doesn’t care that you’re drinking a cocktail at a hip new bar; he only cares if you can make an interesting picture out of it.