Randonautica: What Is It and Are the Stories Real?



The app led one person to a friendly dog in the desert and another to a field of wildflowers. One young woman, after making her college decision, followed the app to a field where her school’s initials had been mowed into the grass.

And then there were the friends who followed the app to a suitcase full of human remains.

That is the gamble one takes with Randonautica, which claims to channel users’ “intentions” to produce nearby coordinates for exploration. Think: The law of attraction meets geocaching.

Randonautica makes a few asks of users — “What would you like to get?” “Choose your entropy source” — before prompting them to “focus on your intent” while it fetches coordinates. This process relies on location settings and a random number generator, which, despite what the company says, cannot be directly affected by human thoughts.

Many of the places users have been sent to since Randonautica became available in February are unremarkable: parking lots, grasslands, many bodies of water. However, interest has been driven by the spooky and often synchronistic “randonauting” stories many have shared on social media. While several of them appear to be fake, others have raised some cause for concern.

That same month, Auburn Salcedo, the chief executive of Presley Media, an agency that creates brand integrations for TV, found the Randonauts on Reddit and offered to help Mr. Lengfelder get the word out. On Jan. 24, Ms. Salcedo and Mr. Lengfelder incorporated Randonauts, L.L.C., with her as C.O.O. and him as C.E.O. (She remains the chief executive of Presley Media, which handles P.R. for Randonautica.) They released a beta version of the app on Feb. 22.

Since its release, Randonautica has been downloaded 10.8 million times from the App Store and Google Play, according to the research firm Sensor Tower. After a few months of rapid growth, much of it propelled by TikTok, its downloads have started to taper off, according to data from the analytics firm App Annie.

In an interview in July, Mr. Lengfelder described Randonautica as “a multimedia storytelling platform” that encourages “performance art.” He said the overwhelming response has not surprised him.

“I kind of figured it was inevitable,” he said. “Because basically what it is is like a machine that creates memes and legends, and it kind of virally propagates on its own.”

On social media, the most popular randonauting videos feature eerie and seemingly dangerous situations that are dramatized through editing. Some creators have capitalized on the trend by posting exaggerated or false accounts of their randonauting adventures. The 27-year-old YouTuber Josh Yozura, for instance, claimed to have been led to a crime scene. (Mr. Yozura did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Ms. Salcedo denounced such videos in an interview with the YouTube creator Billschannel. In a phone interview this month, she spoke further about the proliferation of fake videos. “It’s so hard to manage, because people are really taking creative liberties after seeing how much traction the app is getting in that fear factor,” she said.

On first use, Randonautica offers a brief intro and some tips (“Always Randonaut with a charged phone,” “Never trespass”) before prompting you to share your location.

Then it will ask you to choose which type of point you would like it to generate (the differences between which only matter if you believe the app can read your thoughts) before fetching coordinates from a random number generator. The user can then open that location in Google Maps to begin their journey.

Randonautica throws big words like “quantum” and “entropy” around a lot. Its creators believe that quantum random numbers are more likely to be influenced by human consciousness than non-quantum random numbers. This hypothesis is part of a theory Mr. Lengfelder refers to as “mind-machine interaction,” or M.M.I.: It posits that when you focus on your intent, you are influencing the numbers.

“Basically if you’re looking for any kind of peer-reviewed, scientific consensus, that does not exist yet in the literature,” Mr. Lengfelder said in a TikTok video in June, speaking about the theory. Instead, he pointed to the work of Dean Radin, a prominent figure in the pseudoscientific field of parapsychology, and the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program, which has cited Dr. Radin’s research, as evidence.

Randonautica claims that a 1998 PEAR experiment supported the idea that people can control random number generation with their thoughts. That study was published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, which includes work about the paranormal, spirit possessions, poltergeists and questions about Shakespeare’s authorship. In the study, PEAR’s researchers wrote that the experiment was far from conclusive.

“It looks like they saw some kind of correlation, but they admit that it was weak and it needed to have further research associated with it,” said Casey Schwarz, an experimental physicist and assistant professor at Ursinus College who reviewed Randonautica’s claims for this article. She said she did not know of any quantum system that could be influenced by human thoughts.

Lisa Fazio, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, said that the more synchronous experiences were likely coincidences colored by confirmation bias, or the tendency to look for information that affirms one’s beliefs and tune out contradictory evidence.

She pointed to a story shared on Reddit, in which an Australian poster described being led to a map of the London underground. “Things like that happen all the time, it’s just that you don’t notice that map of London if you didn’t have the intention already to be thinking of London,” Dr. Fazio said. She also noted that coincidences are far more common than people realize.

Mr. Lengfelder dismissed such criticisms, stating that the app was not created to prove a hypothesis. “I would say it’s not some kind of academic science work,” he said. “We’re more like inventors than academic scientists.”

An update coming in August will feature improved graphics and, Mr. Lengfelder said, a custom random number generator that would have a higher “rate of entropy.” “So technically our M.M.I. effects should be higher,” he said. Of course, as noted above, M.M.I. is a theory that is not supported by science.

Daniel J. Rogers, a physicist who has worked with quantum random number generators, called Randonautica’s M.M.I. theory “completely absurd.”

“There is no quantum physics here,” said Dr. Rogers, a founder of the Global Disinformation Index. “This is just people using big science words to sound magical. There is no actual science here.”

Know and Tell, a child protection education program with the Granite State Children’s Alliance in New Hampshire, has posted on Instagram telling parents to keep young people off the app, or at least supervise their use.



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