A new app for smartwatches and phones is aimed at a growing market—runners who seem to have forgotten that other human beings exist.
The app, called Empathize My Run, opens automatically when it senses the user is running. At predetermined intervals it buzzes and delivers a short auditory message to remind the user to take his or her head out of his or her ass and actually look around to see what's going on.
The app is free, with ads, but a premium version ($4.99) offers the spoken reminders via several celebrity voices, including that of the actress Dame Judi Dench, who delivers the "get your head out of your ass" line.
"Kindness starts with awareness," said Peter Townshend, president and CEO of QuadroPhoenix, the company behind the app. "That's what Empathize My Run is all about—making runners aware that there are other people around them, and that these people have feelings and deserve respect."
The release of the app comes at an opportune time, Townshend said, occurring just days after a woman nearly collapsed near the finish of a Philadelphia half-marathon. In a video that went viral, three fellow runners stopped to help her across the finish line—but scores of others simply streamed around the victim, eyes ahead and earbuds in.
"All those others," said Townshend, "that's our target audience."
Among runners who have tested the app, reaction is positive.
"I love it," said Barbara O'Riley, 26, a runner in Bethesda, Maryland. "It really takes the guesswork out of paying attention. Like yesterday, my app buzzed and I looked up and realized another runner was smiling and waving at me as she passed. I totally would've missed that!"
Another runner, who simply gave his name as Tommy, said he's also a fan.
"Yesterday I was out for a run, listening to a really interesting podcast," he said. "I was literally stepping over the body of another runner on the sidewalk, totally on autopilot, when Empathize My Run chirped up. Suddenly Patrick Stewart was in my earbuds, intoning that no man is an island, and that having a 'someone else will take care of it' attitude diminishes all of us, including me. So I stopped and checked the guy out. Turns out he was in cardiac arrest."
"I called him an ambulance," he said. "Then got back to my podcast. It felt really good."