Among others but still feeling alone? A Naperville man has an app for that
Now that we're well into Year Two of the coronavirus pandemic, much of the attention is focused on younger people. The direct observation is that more young adults are becoming infected with the virus. But there is an indirect concern, too.
"Beyond getting sick, many young adults' social, emotional and mental well-being has been impacted by the pandemic," reads a warning on the website for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Quinn Dellinger has an app for that.
"I had this idea while I was sitting at an airport," says Dellinger, 22, of Naperville. He looked around and saw a lot of people his age, who probably had a lot in common.
"And we're all on the phone," he says. "I found this to be isolating."
He knew there had to be some way to connect all those individuals.
"What if I created a group chat room for every smartphone nearby?" Dellinger remembers thinking. Fresh from earning a degree in quantitative economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dellinger took about a year to develop Vicinity: Nearby Messenger.
"It allows you to instantly connect with everyone around you," Dellinger says.
The arrival of COVID-19 made his app more necessary, he says. "During the pandemic, I'd often take walks through my neighborhood and wonder if we would all be better off if we could somehow chat with each other," he says. "Vicinity lets that happen."
Anyone with the app can enter a general chat room with others in range who have downloaded the app. The range can be adjusted to meet the needs of the location. Users can narrow the reach to people in a restaurant, bar or airplane, expand it to an entire apartment complex or neighborhood, or reach out to people up to 15 miles away.
If you are looking for a mechanic in a rural area, the expanded range could come in handy. But if you would like to reach out to the person sitting at the other end of the bar, a narrow range would be fine, Dellinger says.
While social media is filled with scammers and stalkers, "privacy is something I was concerned about," he says. Dellinger designed the app so the first message is simply a request to respond, which the recipient can deny. Vicinity also lets users create private chat groups with only their friends.
He envisions it being used by people gathered at a sporting event or concert to share observations. It also could be used to seek recommendations on topics ranging from plumbers to the best outdoor patio at a local restaurant.
"As a member of Generation Z, social media was ubiquitous in junior high and high school, and I was essentially a guinea pig for their services," Dellinger says. "I was one of the first to develop an overreliance on social media, and I didn't like how that felt. So I started digging deeper and researched and learned more on the topic of issues surrounding loneliness, and I learned that there is a correlation between loneliness and higher use of social media apps. Which only increased my motivation to create a solution."
Vicinity is available free for Apple and Android phones. More information is available at thevicinityapp.com.
"If a bunch of people in the suburbs get on it, I really want to see what happens," says Dellinger. "I want you to put your phone down at some point and talk to someone in real life."