Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

So, um. Wow.

I released a silly little iOS app earlier this week, called Romantimatic. Its job is to quietly tap you on the shoulder a couple of times a week, reminding you to send a nice message to your significant other: “I love you,” “I’m thinking of you,” “You make my sensitive bits feel all tingly.” Y’know, romance.

It comes with a couple of dozen predefined messages, and allows you to edit your own; it’s got a few settings for how often it sends the notification. That’s it. You could certainly do everything that the app does with your own brain, like people have been doing for tens of thousands of years. (Pre-verbal grunting was the texting of the Late Cretaceous.)

But I, at least, had trouble with it. I’m an over-focused nerd. Since you’re reading a blog, you may recognize the type, perhaps by looking in the mirror. I’d sit down in front of the keyboard and the time would sweep away, and I’d be left having spent another day without telling my wife how wonderful I think she is.

Thus, Romantimatic. It started out as a joke — the six billionth “There’s an app for that!” joke, in fact — but I eventually sat down to actually implement it. The result is software to remind you to pull your head out of your ass every once in a while. Judging by myself, such a thing should have an enormous market. Yes, it’s silly, but it also serves a purpose. Are you a chowderhead? Are you aware you’re a chowderhead? Have we got the thing for you!

I told someone that the app is a serious implementation of a silly joke about a serious need. I don’t know where that leaves it on the silly-serious spectrum, but I suspect it’s not a point but a range.

But, man, I was not prepared for the response. Woo.

I knew there would be some have-we-come-to-this tut-tutting. I mean, I’m not that oblivious. You attach software to the expression of romantic love, and some people are going to see it as cynical. We’ve wrapped code around almost everything in our lives, but deeply felt emotion is still supposed to be start-to-finish analog. You don’t put your anniversary on a calendar, because it means you’re a bad person who doesn’t care.

Except it doesn’t. It means you want to remember it. Your calendar is a tool and it helps you do the things you want to do. I see Romantimatic in the same light. If you’re not good at something and want to get better at it, a tool can help. Tools make things faster and easier and more reliable.

But the number of people who don’t agree — at least in the specific case of texting your sweetheart — has been a little staggering. Twitter is awash with “appalling” and “is this a joke?” and “this makes me feel ill”. And the most surprising members in the chorus of disapproval have been the nerds. Lots of nerds.

I don’t mean to play on stereotypes, but the app was basically written for nerds. These are my people. The whole notion of being so over-focused that an entire day goes by is basically nerd canon.

Plus, nerds are used to using tools, especially digital ones. They’re comfortable with it. They have entwined software deep into their lives, and like it that way. Beep boop beep, nerds! Greetings!

And that’s where the disconnect comes in for me. The presumption appears to be that using Romantimatic to prompt you to send a message to the love of your life automatically makes that message insincere. That if you need to be reminded, your love is somehow broken or false or meaningless. That’s what I don’t get. For people who deeply love technology, its effects and its impact, this one tiny corner case — a few dozen bytes of notification text — somehow makes me an overly-mechanized jerk.

The app has also been called a crutch, which I totally agree with. If you can’t walk very well, crutches are really, really handy. Maybe you’ll use the crutch forever, or maybe it will help you get to where you need to be, to walk on your own. But that doesn’t make the walking or the destination insincere.

I am — and please forgive me for putting this image in your head — a boiling cauldron of passionate love. But I’m also a small business owner who’s the parent of three teenage boys and has at least a foothold somewhere on the autism spectrum. Forgive me if I get distracted. At least I want to get better at it, right? Right? Hello?

There was not an ounce of insincerity or cynicism in the creation of Romantimatic — I mean, come on, it’s got “I love you” in High Elven included as a pre-defined text! — but I apparently did a lousy job of getting that across.

It’s funny, people! And maybe a little stupid-sweet. And maybe, hopefully, a little useful.

And available in the App Store for the low, low price of two dollars!

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is I'd love to hear from you!

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