Nudge Nudge

I Let a Lifestyle App Run My Life for Two Weeks

Could an app transform me into a social butterfly? Not in this economy.

By Sophie Grossman December 3, 2021

The life of a Nudger is supremely photogenic—and not incidentally.

Image: Nudge

Much is made of Seattle as a city of reserved introverts, and while it’s impossible to say whether any cultural stereotype is the product of actualities or merely a self-fulfilling prophecy, this one exerts real force on Seattleites’ self-perception.

Enter Nudge, a San Francisco–based app that texts users in its cities (which include Austin, Nashville, and Denver, along with the obvious LA and NYC) two or three times each week with date ideas, weekend trips, and other ways to make the most of your precious free time. “Most tech companies are empowering us to be lazy,” Nudge’s website proclaims, “to binge rather than see a concert, post a comment rather than call.” But not Nudge.

Can this app really transform me, a recent transplant in the most proudly introverted city in America, into a social butterfly? I spent two weeks following Nudge’s every whim to find out.

Upon downloading the app, my benevolent algorithmic dictator’s first directive is self-explanatory and very Seattle: Bike to Beers. “Rent Jump bikes in U District and ride 4 miles along the Burke-Gilman Trail to drink beers at a hidden brewery on the water.” The brewery in question, far from being the sort of cozy, little-known hole-in-the-wall evoked by this phrasing, turns out to be hidden in a much more literal sense. But more on that later.

I ask my friend Ian to accompany me on this endeavor, informing him that we are taking orders from Nudge this evening. But despite our rain jackets and sensible shoes, resolve quickly crumbles under the encouragement of a light rain and howling winds. We nix biking to beers, even at risk of corrupting the purity of this experiment. Instead, we bus to beers.

By the time we step off the 75 near Magnuson, night has fallen in earnest and the gutters are swollen with rain. The most direct route down to the brewery, which hugs the shoreline between a bicycle shop and a youth sailing club, is barricaded because of, what else, construction. What ensues is a very wet and muddy 15 minutes, during which we might have (probably) trespassed on private property more than once in our thwarted attempts to reach Magnuson Cafe and Brewery. 

All wrong turns lead to Spider Hallway. 

We find our way to the back of the building, and after a series of wrong turns, end up in front of the sailing club, where we receive some puzzled and mildly alarmed glances at our emergence from the forested shadows looking haggard and very damp. 

 A beer, ensconced beneath the warmth and protection of the brewery’s covered patio, is sufficient consolation for the ordeal of reaching it, and the cauliflower, beer battered and fried within an inch of its life, leaves me feeling more charitable toward Nudge.

The next evening brings a new Nudge, this one much less modest than Bike to Beers: Hot Tub Boating on Lake Union. “Nothing says #nudging,” the description begins chirpily, “like floating in a Hot Tub Boat on the lake as you gaze at the pink sunset in Portage Bay.” I stare at the app, slightly agog. My editor told me to expense everything, but an evening costing a grand total of $473 seems a bit extravagant on a city magazine budget.

The integrity of the experiment already compromised by neglecting to bike to Magnuson, I feel few qualms ignoring this particular Nudge. Given the app’s startling misapprehension that I possess excess quantities of disposable income, however, I view the text that rolls in a week later with new suspicion.

Nudge's fall weekend getaway spotlights cider tasting.

“Cider Hopping on Vashon Island in Fall” proposes a staycation of sorts, a “plan to gtfo w/o having to book a [airplane emoji].” And as I sit at the Hardware Store, a purveyor of elevated diner classics nestled in the oldest commercial building on the island, I admit that it does feel like I’m on vacation, despite the rain flying in a horizontal deluge on the other side of the window glass.

Nudge’s plan for a day on Vashon does not, at first glance, contain a thought for food—despite a double-header cider tasting in the afternoon—and so, for our own health and safety, my friends and I elect for a detour of breakfast sandwiches lathered in peppercorn aioli.

I did make at least one new friend in the course of my Nudging. 

Nashi Orchards, our next stop, is a verdant pastoral nook. Sheep in an enclosure outside the tasting room stand stock-still in the rain, as though the downpour might relent if only they remain motionless enough. Our flight runs the gamut from a cider so dry and acidic it evokes white wine to a near-syrupy cordial, and the pours are generous enough to warrant demurral on my part (a rare occurrence, for context). When we return to the city rejuvenated, Nudge feels like it’s delivered on its promised weekend getaway.

 A mulled maple and brown sugar latte from Cafe Flora is the star of a Thanksgiving week “mini Nudge plan” that also includes a stroll around the Arboretum, but despite the app’s insistence that Flora is open all week, the restaurant is closed upon our arrival Thursday morning. We return for lunch on Friday, instead, another food-related deviation from Nudge’s plan over which I lose no sleep.

At the conclusion of two weeks, I have to admit I enjoyed myself and discovered some local businesses I may not have visited without a “nudge” in the right direction. It’s clear that the app is tailored toward a very particular kind of user and is selling her (unmistakably her) a very particular lifestyle, one replete with eminently Instagrammable sushi dinners and Hunter boot–clad frolics through fall foliage. But while I’m sold on the #nudging life—I just can’t afford to buy in. My biggest critique is the lack of a price-point filter. For aside from my basic plan, Nudge goes a step further with a premium subscription that grants users access to a massive cache of curated activities, along with several more tailored premium options including “Ally Nudge,” which purports to help you become a better supporter of the Black community.

Although they won’t disclose total users, Nudge says that “anywhere from 12–50 percent of female millennials in each of our cities are members.” Of course, the average user is under no obligation to partake in every activity Nudge suggests. However, at risk of sounding cheesy, the thing I enjoyed most about all of these activities was the time spent with friends. And I didn’t actually need an app—or pricey weekend getaways—to appreciate their company.

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