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Detroit artist fed up with social media has spent years building app to show real human experience

(WXYZ) — It’s no secret that social media is a fixture in our day-to-day lives. While it helps us connect and stay in touch with the outside world, those benefits can come at the price of, sometimes, our mental well-being.

“There’s often a sense of having to compare yourself with someone else and often that comes up unfavorably … you can feel like an imposter, that you’re trying to keep up with the rest of the crowd and always looking for likes,” said Dr. Ron Samarian, Chief of Psychiatry at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

It’s that sort of one-sided, picture-perfect appearance that didn’t sit well with Detroiter Ziarekenya Smith. He was going through a rough patch, wanted to share it on social media and then decided against it.

Courtesy Ziarekenya Smith

“I quickly asked myself, ‘why is that the case?’ Because life is peaks and valleys. It’s not just success, success, positivity, because that’s not real, that’s Disney World. And to be quite honest, it’s toxic,” said Smith.

That’s why after graduating from one of the nation’s top creative schools, the visual artist zigged left when all of his peers zagged right.

“Money was never the issue, I was never motivated by money. It was always … I want to get up with a purpose, with a passion, knowing why I’m here,” he said.

Even after his artwork caught the attention of some big names, Smith turned down lucrative job offers, headed back to Detroit and started building Inpathy, an app he hopes will offer a more well-rounded social platform.

“Social media is going to be part of our future. It’s not going nowhere … so my mind is, ‘OK, let’s create a better version of it. We have to,'” he said.

Smith has been working on Inpathy for six years.

Courtesy Ziarekenya Smith

“I always tell people the concept is fairly simple, because if you take away … status, money, material possessions … accolades, all that good stuff, all you have left is community, stories and your emotion,” said Smith.

And that’s exactly what the app is based around, the human experience. Smith explains how Inpathy will check in with people, asking them their moods multiple times a day.

People can search stories based on moods, or find someone else who shares their mood at any given time. There will also be a two-way communication policy when it comes to connections.

The overall themes are authenticity and transparency.

“I want people to express themselves, so people can really hear it, so people can really feel it,” he said.

He said his app build was quoted to take $700,000, and through sweat equity, Smith said he was able to cut that price in half. He’s now fundraising to make up the difference, leaning away from securing investors.

“I don’t want the Inpathy idea, vision to get corrupt just because of money,” he said.

He’s working with a hope that the future of social media will be different and more honest.

“It has the functionality to show you this is normal, these moods. These highs and lows is normal. This is the human experience. That’s … the core of Inpathy, to show people it’s OK to be OK. It’s OK not to be OK,” said Smith.

“I appreciate it if somebody is out there trying to create a platform where we can be more open and honest and trusting, that’s what it’s going to take to calm a lot of people down, especially the young people,” said Dr. Samarian.

Smith said he’s on track to launch the beta version of Inpathy in the fall of this year, if he’s able to meet his fundraising goals.



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