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Read this story or we give away the ending

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By Todd Leopold

(CNN) -- Did you hear what happens in "Gravity," the Sandra Bullock-George Clooney film that opened over the weekend?

Oh, sorry. SPOILER ALERT.

How about the way that "Breaking Bad" ende --

Spoiler alert.

Have you heard that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's --

Sigh.

Well, here's a spoiler for you: These days, you can't avoid spoilers. You can only hope to contain them.

By now, you probably know what happened to "Breaking Bad's" Walter White, or what "Game of Thrones' " Red Wedding entailed, or who made a cameo appearance in "This Is the End." Television finales, new movie releases, sports contests -- their plot twists and results are given away, often in real time, all over the Internet.

Josh Solt and Matthew Loew decided to do something about it.

The two techies were tired of seeing spoilers pop up all over their social media feeds, so they created Spoiler Shield, a free mobile app for iPhones that blocks designated information. (The Android version is coming soon, they say.) The app was inspired by their love of sports and that famed "Thrones" episode, says Loew.

"Spoilers are a real problem, particularly for those of us who work long hours," he says. "The Red Wedding episode was the straw that broke the camel's back. We both had prior engagements that prevented us from watching it live, and that was such a social media event with the surprise plot twists that happened that both of us had the episode ruined."

He's already seen results from the creation of Spoiler Shield. Last Sunday he was stuck in Portland, Oregon, because of an airplane maintenance problem.

"I missed all of football -- with the exception of the games on the local channels -- and also missed 'Breaking Bad,' " he says. "So I had to use the app for all of those features to protect myself while I spent 11 hours in the airport."

A sociable activity

They're not the only ones offering protection.

Netflix recently introduced "Spoiler Foiler" so "Breaking Bad" fans could steer clear of revelations. Lifehacker and other sites have provided advice for changing browser settings. And last spring Jennie Lamere, then a high school senior, created Twivo, a Google Chrome add-on that eliminates keywords from Twitter feeds on the Web.

Lamere, now a freshman at the Rochester Institute of Technology, came up with the idea at a hackathon she attended. Her impetus: "Dance Moms" and "Pretty Little Liars."

"I saw spoilers for them on Twitter, so I came up with a little spoiler blocker," she says.

Indeed, while "Breaking Bad" has been getting all the attention, it's "Pretty Little Liars" that gets a lot of the tweets.

According to SocialGuide, a Nielsen-affiliated firm that measures "ratings" through social media, the most tweeted-about show of all time is last season's "Liars" finale, which was cited in almost 2 million tweets during its airing window. By contrast, "Breaking Bad" was mentioned in about 1.24 million tweets.

But why do we need such apps at all? Couldn't you just revert back to the, oh, 1990s and shut off all unnecessary devices?

Jennifer Barnes, a psychology professor at the University of Oklahoma, notes that storytelling is inherently sociable, so it's only natural that we share our thoughts with others.

However, the problem is that we invest in these fictional characters so much that even though we know fiction isn't real, "on a gut level we feel like it is," she says. So we may get upset by spoilers because we've had our illusion ruined, she says.

"Does knowing what's going to happen serve as a reminder that what you're watching isn't real?" she asks.

What's next

There are degrees of spoilers, and some -- in the form of expectations -- are woven into certain genres. We go to horror movies knowing that something is going to make us jump. We read mysteries knowing that the author is dropping clues to solving the crime.

It's knowing when the scare is coming, or having the murderer revealed beforehand, that's often the spoiler.

And over time, some spoilers cease to be so bothersome. By now (presumably), the world knows that Janet Leigh's character is killed in the shower less than halfway into 1960's "Psycho" -- a huge shocker when the movie came out. What's left is being able to admire Alfred Hitchcock's filmmaking artistry in the shower scene and the rest of the film.

"There have to be other reasons we like watching things that have nothing to do with figuring out what's happening next," says Barnes, noting that story construction, character relationships and language enter in the equation.

Besides, spoilers are so available now. A huge chunk of Filmsite.org is dedicated to spoilers; other sites, including themoviespoiler.com and moviepooper.com, are completely dedicated to the practice.

We've now become so inured to spoilers, and so immersed in our social-media worlds, that we've come to expect that it won't take long to find out a surprise. Five years ago, New York magazine even posted a "spoiler statute of limitations" so incensed readers would know when to get mad.

You can still rail at those so-called friends (or, let's face it, media outlets) who give away the surprise. And then download one of the spoiler apps.

Solt and Loew have big plans. Why not? Spoiler Shield was downloaded thousands of times in just its first weekend.

"We're exploring all different ways to use Spoiler Shield," says Loew, noting movies are in the works, as well as toggles for the NBA, NHL and European soccer. They're even investigating customized local shields.

"That's what we really love about it," adds Solt. "It's a year-round app."

So maybe you won't find out the details for "Gravity." Don't worry -- you won't get them from us. Some things are better experienced first-hand.

However, you'll probably find out in the comments.
   
 The-CNN-Wire
 ™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.
 

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