Can These Apps Stop You From ‘Drunk Texting’?
Modern-day ‘drunk dialing’ gets a tech check; Adele’s backup
By Ryan Knutson
Jan. 25, 2016
The smartphone has become one of the world’s most powerful communications tools. That can be a bad thing if you’re drunk.
Ronnie Rocha learned that the hard way after texting a profanity-laced tirade, while drunk, to his boss. In the missive, he demanded to be paid more and given more responsibilities at his job as a computer programmer.
Mr. Rocha, 23 years old at the time, managed to keep his part-time gig. But he admits he had no recollection of sending the text.
“The devices of power and productivity become weapons of everything once you have some alcohol in you,” Mr. Rocha said.
Mr. Rocha, who lives in San Antonio, Texas, actually gained something from the incident. Realizing that he was far from alone in the tipsy-texting phenomenon, he was inspired to build a free iPhone app, called the Drunk Text Savior. When users draft a text message or tweet via his app, the software analyzes the contents of the missive and advises the author not to press “send” if it contains too many misspellings or explicit language.
Humans have almost certainly been making drunken phone calls since not long after Alexander Graham Bell placed the first call in 1876. Mobile phones made such mishaps easier. Smartphones, with their ability to send emails and post messages for all to see on Facebook and Twitter, have further escalated the potential for danger. About two-thirds of Americans have them.
In 2007, Amber Ferris and Erin Hollenbaugh decided to research the drunk dialing trend. They surveyed nearly 500 college students at a Midwestern university. Out of 486 undergraduates, 79% said they had either placed or received a drunk dial. The results were published in 2011 in the Ohio Communication Journal.
“Besides expressing positive and negative feelings, one type of drunk dial was quite prevalent in our data-the flippant expression of love,” the authors wrote in another version of the study.
Google’s popular Gmail service used to have a feature called “Mail Goggles” that required users to solve a math problem when attempting to send emails late at night on weekends. The function disappeared in 2012.
A Google spokesman said that Mail Goggles was only an experimental feature. “Mail Goggles had a few too many late nights and didn’t make it to graduation,” he said.
Even celebrities like singer Adele have acknowledged sending regrettable tweets while drunk. The solution: The star, who has said she no longer drinks, has her own backstop. “My management decided that you have to go through two people and then it has to be signed off by someone,” she told a BBC studio audience last year. A spokesman for Adele declined to comment.
And so it follows that, over the past few years, a cottage industry has sprung up-the goal being to help keep people’s phones sober when their brains are not.
Joshua Anton, a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, said he was moved to build an app after receiving a late-night drunken request for ice from a swooning female friend. She had no recollection of the call the following day.
His app, called Drunk Mode, temporarily discourages imbibers from texting and calling. Users must solve a math problem involving triple digit figures to turn it off, such as 824 + 651 + 61.
“Some people think it’s too hard, like ‘I can’t even do this sober,’ ” said Mr. Anton, who majored in commerce. “And some people say it’s not hard enough.”
Subsequent experiences informed new features. Once, while camping, Mr. Anton and two friends walked several miles to the nearest bar-a path that might have been hard to retrace. After the excursion, they created a feature called “Breadcrumbs,” which allows users to trace their precise whereabouts the previous night. The logic: it could come in handy when searching for items lost during a raucous outing. Unless, of course, you lost your phone.
Another feature, called “Find My Drunk,” allows groups of partygoers to share their locations with each other in real time.
“I look at it as a drunken man’s tool kit,” said Mr. Anton, who added that he doesn’t drink himself.
Drunk Mode is free and has more than 1 million downloads, about 25% of which use the app monthly, according to Mr. Anton. Still, it can’t stop a user from sending emails while inebriated and it can’t block access to sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The real solution to tipsy transmissions may require more than just slick software, said Michael Burke, a 47-year-old in Oceanside, Calif. He and a friend have created a breathalyzer that connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth and blocks social media posts if the user’s blood alcohol content exceeds a preset limit.
The duo received a U.S. patent for the device, which they call the iDrunk. But after investing as much as $80,000 of their own money, the project is stalled. Mr. Burke said they have a working prototype but need several hundred thousand dollars to begin manufacturing.
The remedy, however, doesn’t necessarily go down as easy as the booze-something Mr. Burke discovered while testing his own creation. “I hated it,” he said. “Especially on the nights where I was really drunk and wanted to be able to post stuff.”