REYKJAVIK, Iceland – You meet someone, there’s chemistry and then come the introductory questions: What’s your name? Come here often? Are you my cousin?
In Iceland, a country with a population of 320,000 where most everyone is distantly related, inadvertently kissing cousins is a real risk.
A new smartphone app is on hand to help Icelanders avoid accidental incest. The app lets users “bump” phones, and emits a warning alarm if they are closely related.
Some are hailing it as a welcome solution to a very Icelandic form of social embarrassment.
“Everyone has heard the story of going to a family event and running into a girl you hooked up with some time ago,” said Einar Magnusson, a graphic designer in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. “It’s not a good feeling when you realize that girl is a second cousin. People may think it’s funny, but (the app) is a necessity.”
The Islendiga-App – “App of Icelanders” – is an idea that may only be possible in Iceland, where most of the population shares descent from a group of ninth-century Viking settlers, and where an online database holds genealogical details of almost the entire population.
The app was created by three University of Iceland software engineering students for a contest calling for “new creative uses” of the Islendingabok, or Book of Icelanders, an online database of residents and their family trees stretching back 1,200 years.
Arnar Freyr Adalsteinsson, one of the trio, said it allows any two Icelanders to see how closely related they are, simply by touching phones.
Currently available for Android phones, it has been downloaded almost 4,000 times since it was launched earlier this month. The creators also hope to develop an iPhone version.
Stefansson says the “bump” feature is an attention-grabbing but relatively minor aspect of an app that brings Icelanders’ love of genealogy into the 21st century.
He also hopes it won’t convey the wrong impression about Iceland.
“The Icelandic nation is not inbred,” he said. “This app is interesting. It makes the data much more available. But the idea that it will be used by young people to make sure they don’t marry their cousins is of much more interest to the press than a reflection of reality.”
It may also be of limited use. Currently, the alarm only alerts users if they and their new acquaintance have a common grandparent, and most people already know who their first cousins are.
Adalsteinsson stresses that the app has other, less sexual uses.
“We added a birthday calendar to make sure you don’t forget your relatives’ birthdays,” he said.