I just tried to kill my phone battery on purpose so I could talk to a bunch of strangers for a few moments. I took a call in the cold, turned my screen brightness up to max power, connected my Bluetooth headphones and let YouTube play at 1080p HD.
All of this felt cruel, but it was necessary if I were to meet my new friends in the void below five percent. Die With Me, an app launched Wednesday on iOS and Android, is a chatroom that’s only accessible during those dark moments where your phone’s about to kick it.
Like Chris Bolin’s offline-only webpage, it tinkers with the idea that letting go of our digital connections might reveal whole new possibilities.
“We wanted to do something positive with a low battery,” Dries Depoorter, the Belgium-based creator of the app, told me in an email. The idea of incorporating a chatroom into that concept came later. “And now we see people happy with a low battery having low battery conversations. We had so much fun creating this.”
When I pushed my own phone battery to below five percent, I went to the app and found a room of past chat logs, mostly people lamenting their fading status. The app asks nothing of you except for a nickname and to read your device’s battery status, which it displays next to your texts.
In 2016, Depoorter presented the original idea for “Die With Me” at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam’s annual DocLab Interactive Conference. In November 2017, he and his partner for this project, David Surprenant, launched the first beta version in a small test through a IDFA DocLab live event, using the festival audience.
Getting the final version of Die With Me through the App Store approval process was much more difficult, Depoorter told me. Just before launch, the news broke that Apple was throttling iPhone performance on phones with old batteries, and Apple started rejecting every update of this app. Eventually, they were able to push it through a long update process to get it live on the App Store.
The current version of Die With Me is a simple, clever, anonymous toy, but Depoorter told me that their original plans included potential for a romantic connection. “We had ideas to make a dating app where you can find someone around you with a low battery,” he said, “and when you meet, the battery [is dead], so you can have a offline real conversation.”
I’m plugging my phone back in now.