Two summers ago, mother of four Susie Melnick wouldn’t even take a short walk around her Edina neighborhood without her phone, just in case her sons’ camps called while she was out.
“I felt like I couldn’t be away from my phone,” Melnick says, “and in that moment, I realized it’s such an unhealthy way to live.”
That’s when she came up with the idea for StatusNow, an app to help people be more comfortable disconnecting by providing real-time information on their whereabouts to anyone who might need to reach them quickly.
Mobile phones have made us expect to reach people immediately, and when we can’t—particularly if it’s a spouse, child, or caretaker—we worry, Melnick says. On the other end of the receiver, Melnick adds, people tend to assume the worst when a call comes in, and they become distracted if they can’t answer.
StatusNow functions as an “out of office” message. A user plugs in the time and location of an activity during which they won’t be answering their phone—a work meeting or a yoga class, for example. Then the user chooses with whom they want to share the information—school, camp, dog-sitter—with the option of creating contact groups. Custom messages can be written for different groups, including instructions for who else to call in the event of a non-emergency or for how to reach the user if it is a real emergency.
“[StatusNow] lets things that are urgent be urgent again,” Melnick says.
StatusNow became available in late March on Android and iOS. It’s free, but there may be an enhanced version available for a fee in the future.
Melnick admits she faces a challenge—people will have to curb dial-happy tendencies in favor of using the app. But she believes people are so conscious of being tethered to their phones that they’ll be willing to try it.
The first-time app designer says that, above all, the goal of StatusNow is to help people learn to “be present and enjoy what they’re doing” by putting down their phones.
“There are all these things said about technologies being an addiction,” Melnick says. “I’m not saying I’m solving the tech world problem, but I just hope that I’m making a little difference for right now.”