Would you let a stranger wake you up with a phone call?

Alarm Clock Bed

A new app, Wakie, promises that the ‘mental engagement’ offered by a call from another, random, user is an effective wake-up strategy – but does it work? We tested it for a week

Should you talk to strangers? Technology has never offered clear guidance on this. Every incarnation of the communication revolution – from chat rooms to Chatroulette – has offered a new way of plonking users alongside other bored weirdos and seeing what happens. This is often sold with the promise of creating a global conversation, of bringing people together, but in reality only two groups of people seem to end up in that conversation: drunk first-timers asking, “Is this thing on?” and masturbators.

Wakie is a new-ish app that might have found a way around that. Like many gimmicky bits of tech from the past, it pairs you with a random stranger on the phone. But it also give you a purpose: to wake someone up (and in turn, be woken up by them). Tell it what time you want to get up, and Wakie finds a person who will give you a call. They have one minute to do whatever they want– the app suggests “talk gently, ask questions, sing or play music”.

I’m an early riser. I normally wake up before my alarm and have already scrolled through half of Instagram when Radio 1 starts blaring at 7.30am. But I often fall back to sleep an hour or so later, and then am late for everything. Wakie promises that the mental engagement that comes from talking to a stranger keeps you awake, and prevents you falling back into snooze mode. So I give it a go.

First, I have to wake someone else up. Almost straight away I am connected to a woman in LA. “Oh, hi,” she says woozily. “Er, hi,” I reply. I can’t think of anything to say. “It’s time to wake up, I guess, are you cool with that?” She tells me she just woke up from a nap after work. “Oh, God, then you must have a lot of post-nap guilt, I can’t even look at myself in the mirror after a long nap, I feel so creaky and ashamed.”

“Not really,” she says.

I hang up.

The whole thing lasts 20 seconds. It feels stilted. Clearly I’m a rookie, but once I get a few wake-up calls of my own I should start to understand how it works.

The next morning, my phone rings and I grab it, still in last night’s shirt. “It’s time for you to wake the fuck up,” says a gruff man from California. “Oh, right,” I say. “Yeah ... now get get a fucking cup of coffee and, er, start your day. It’s time for you to get up.”

My waker seems to be losing some of his initial aggression, I tell him.

“WHAT?” he says, and then, “LOVE YOU!” and hangs up.

That’s the best call I get all week. Mostly it’s just well-meaning people, probably trying the app for the first time, telling me I have to get up. I’m not typically in the right state of mind to take the conversation very far, so these talks just peter out. Like most chatrooms, there’s not a lot of creativity going on, but I do find it more effective than an alarm clock: those couple of seconds where you actually have to reply to someone kick your brain into gear, in the same way that you can always wake up crazy early when you have to go the airport, for example.

For my own wake-up calls, I decide there needs to be more of a format. Initially, I try “name that tune”, where I play the people I call bits of songs from my computer and ask them to guess what it is. That doesn’t go down very well, and most people hang up before the minute is over. So instead I start to create absurd situations which demand their attendance. I invite people over for book group, or promise to send them some cake if they go to their kitchen. Or I say stuff like this:

“Hi this is Sam, from the Grammys. Listen, there’s been a bit of an issue with Kanye, he’s got a Kris Jenner thing he has to deal with and he’s not going to be able to make. Do you think you might be around on Sunday night to play a few songs?”

“Eugh, yeah, I’m not that good at singing, though.”

“That’s fine. Can you play any instruments?”

“A bit of guitar.”

“That’ll do, so if you could just make it down for Sunday at 8pm.”

“Wait, where do I have to go?”

“We’ll send a car.”

“Oh, OK. See you then.”

I’m going to keep Wakie for a few more weeks but, as with every chatroom, there is too much passing traffic; too many rubberneckers trying it out for the first time to show their friend. For Wakie to really work, it needs people who are really committed to getting other people out of bed. But what’s most likely to happen is people using it for a couple of days before putting it in their phone-app graveyard, alongside Draw Something and MyFitnessPal.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Sam Wolfson, for theguardian.com on Monday 9th February 2015 14.15 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010