SOBER GRID: A smartphone app for the recovery community

It’s the day after Sober Grid was released and the new geo-social mobile app’s headquarters in Boston’s Back Bay is abuzz with excitement.

“You wouldn’t believe the response we’ve had so far,” emotes Beau Mann, the 33-year-old creator of Sober Grid. “We’ve already had a few thousand downloads and the responses are through the roof.”

The new app is at the intersection of digital technology and the offline 12-step recovery movement. Occasionally, a smartphone app appears which excites people so much it becomes a daily ritual. Dating apps like Grindr and Tinder are perfect examples.

Mann, the co-founder of Sober Grid, which is a GPS-based social networking app, hopes his latest technological innovation will do the same for the recovery community.

Yes, sober people all over the world are getting on the Grid.

While 12-step recovery groups are usually considered face-to-face activities, the role of technology in the spread of the movement has been undeniable—phones, online meetings, websites, and so on.

For this reason, it makes sense that the age of digital technology would issue in another medium, an app like Sober Grid, to change the lives of sober people once more.

Nobody should be surprised by the marrying of recovery and GPS-based social media. Meetings have always been places where people become connected, and in this sense, they’re a force for good in a fractured world. Websites like Facebook and Twitter, and smartphone apps like Tinder, take this idea even further, promising instantaneous connection. When you combine both types of connectedness—the digital and the recovery—you get Sober Grid.

If it wasn’t for Utah, there might not be a Sober Grid. Every year, the app’s developer, Beau Mann, travels to Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival. It was during one of these trips that he experienced his “light bulb” moment.

On that trip, Mann found himself in a big, empty house in Park City, awaiting friends arriving later in the week. Having recently ended a relationship, it wasn’t the best time for him to be alone, and he remembers thinking: “Jeez … there ought to be an app to meet sober people.'”


Armed with tickets to the Sundance premieres, Mann wanted to meet like-minded, sober people. The backstory to his Sober Grid “epiphany” demonstrates that the app has the potential to fill a gap for clean and sober social networking. “This app is using technology to help sober people in a sober community,” continues Mann. “To be able to find a sober person near you at the touch of a button—you can’t beat that.”

So far, people from all over the world have signed up, with London, New York, Los Angeles, Australia and Toronto hot on the up-take. “Thousands of people have already signed up,” says Mann. “I’ve even had sober celebrities reach out to me, saying they think the idea is cool.”

Since the app was designed with the needs of sober people in mind, its features will be familiar to users in recovery.

“There’s a button for burning desires which puts a red box around your profile,” says Mann, referring to the time at the end of some recovery meetings when the chair invites anyone who feels a “burning desire” to drink or use drugs to speak up.

Another button on the app puts a blue box around your profile, drawing people’s attention to the fact that you’re looking for a ride to a meeting.

The app includes a sobriety calculator, an online Big Book and a Sober News Feed featuring all your friend’s updates in real time.

One of the first questions people ask Mann about the app is whether it’s a sober dating app. Dating in recovery is a controversial issue. Some people swear you shouldn’t start dating before your first sober anniversary. This doesn’t stop people from doing it, of course. And besides, Mann isn’t developing a sobriety program. He’s creating a sober network to support communities that already exist. If people decide to use Sober Grid for dating, he supports that, but it’s not the app’s primary goal.

“Sober Grid is not a program of recovery,” adds Mann. “In the same way that a sober cruise ship isn’t a 12-step program, neither is Sober Grid.” For this reason, he doesn’t have an opinion about the things people use Sober Grid for, as long as it’s connecting them.

Whatever your thoughts on social media are, watch this space. For sober people, the Grid might just be the next Facebook.

Photo: Joe Harrington

Photo: Joe Harrington

Andrew Warburton is a writer and copy editor at Spare Change News.

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