I’ve spent the last few weeks training my boyfriend. Through subtle hints and positive reinforcement, I’ve attempted to change his behavior. It didn’t exactly work.
Now, I didn’t do it because Cosmo or a pandering book convinced me I can manipulate “my man” into breaking habits I don’t like. This experiment was in the name of technology. I wanted to find out if a couples app — in this case, Couple — could actually change the way we communicate. It did, but not in the way I was aiming.
You may remember Couple from back when it was called Pair. Last Winter Pair was one of Y Combinator’s most buzzed-about graduates; in four days it racked up 40,000 downloads (so, 20,000 couples), raised a $4.2 million seed round at a healthy valuation, and set off a streak of copycat couple apps. Earlier this year, Pair acquired one of those copycats, Cupple, and took its name (spelling it correctly, thankgod). The app just passed a million downloads.
The number of apps competing for the right to “consolidate my entire relationship,” as Hamish put it last year, is only growing.
My counter-argument to Hamish at the time was that there’s no need for consolidation. I have no problems communicating with my boyfriend Matt via text, email, Gchat and Gcal. There are also interactions on Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Facetime, Snapchat, Spotify, Instagram, Tumblr, Foursquare, Vine, Albumatic, and Find My Friends. Oh yeah, and old-fashioned in-person talking, too. Yes, it’s a bit all over the place, but I like what all of these services offer. How could Pair/Couple possibly be good enough for me to abandon them all for one centralized app? Put another way, we don’t need this.
Turns out, we were looking at it all wrong. It’s too tempting to incorrectly view communications as a zero sum game. Instant messaging was supposed to kill email. Twitter was supposed to kill blogging. TV was supposed to kill radio. Facebook messenger is now supposed to kill texting. Etc. Clearly, judging by my long list of communications apps, the way we interact with our contacts is fragmented, and, with the addition of each new app, only getting worse.
Realizing this gave me a better understanding of why all the latest communications apps have managed to snap up thousands of users without “killing” their predecessors, even though they all offer variations on the same thing. We’re only going to keep adding more new ways to communicate.
After trying to push my boyfriend to replace our communications with a single app and failing, I’ve figured out the real value of Couple. The question is not, “Do we need this?” because the answer is, “Of course we don’t.” Couple isn’t meant to pull all of these fragmented communications into one place. That would be a utility, and it’s clearly not that.
No, much like Vine, Snapchat and Instagram, it’s simply a new place to communicate in a new way. It’s not replacing texts, emails or IMs or however else you communicate with your loved one. The regular “What time are you getting home tonight?” message is still a text message. The link to the flight you’re planning to purchase is still sent via email.
Couple’s value, I realized, is in providing a special, slightly silly place that’s just for you and your romantic partner. It is a place that often feels frivolous and mushy and sweet, but it’s also hard to be cynical about.
The latest version of Couple includes a few new features beyond the Thumb-kissing which made it famous. The list functionality was nice for tracking date ideas Matt and I have talked about going on, mostly imported from a poorly maintained Google doc we’d started ages ago. The messaging was there to draw some dumb doodles (no one Draws Something anymore, but SnapChat has proven everyone is a little childish and enjoys doing this nonetheless). I added our birthdays and a few social commitments to the “dates” section. I made up an anniversary (do non-married couples still track that to the day?). I shared my location with one tap as I was running around the city in meetings. I sent one-tap “thinking of you” messages, and the photos we shared were added to a gallery of “moments.”
Most of these things could be done outside of Couple. The point was Matt and I found that doing them inside Pair was a reminder that our relationship is special enough to deserve its own little place on our phones, separate from every other app with messages from friends and family next to ours.
I found that the less functional and more silly the feature was, the more we used it. Even simple messages seemed to have more emojis than our regular texts. Those other apps — email, text, IM — were for dealing with logistics and plans and business. Couple is for the opposite of that.