Last year around this time, I was listening to Jeff Jarvis's Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live which eventually convinced me to sign up for the app known as Foursquare. Today (Friday, January 11, 2013) marks the one year anniversary of using Foursquare. The app allows users to virtually "check in" at the places he or she is physically at in a given moment, be it a school, coffee shop, music performance, or even private residence. The check-in grants you a various amounts of points depending on frequency. The points are contrasted with other people you are friend with on Foursquare and if you frequent a place regularly enough, you become "Mayor" of the place. Along the way, you can also earn "badges" which collect on your profile according to the types of checkins you've performed. For instance, after checking into the same place three times in one week, I was awarded the "Local" badge on my profile. I've also received badged for when I'v e checked in to over 50 different places as well as when I had accumulated over 1000 checkins. Additional options allow you to add to a photo gallery for each place you visit and to leave tips for other users using the Foursquare app. You can also comment on other friends' activity and create favorite lists of places you go.
Clearly, the app has a good range of gaming tactics relying on points, badges, social interaction, and sharing. And while all of it amounts to so very little (some places will grant discounts if you "Check In" on Foursquare; though this practice is more popular in urban settings), I find it enjoyable and a curious tool. I also think it is a great example of one of a modern technology that actually propels us out into the physical world rather than keep us inside; one cannot really make full use of the app if he/she doesn't leave the house.
I've synced my Foursquare account with my Facebook and Twitter account, so that when I check in somewhere, the message is forwarded and published on those profiles. As my friends point out, I'm not hard to stalk--I'm not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs, I'm leaving a big large neon signs in my wake.
Why Check In?
So why do it? Am I just an attention whore? (Which if I'm being honest, yeah, there is that to consider). But there's more to it than that. There's value in me being able to see the places and frequency with which I've visited. Firstly, it makes clear exactly where my money has gone; why haven't I saved for item X? Well, the 100+ checkins at coffee shops in the last year easily answers that, right? Secondly, it helps me think about other habits of life from diet to social interactions to writing--since these all correlate around often meeting people outside the house. Thirdly, I've had some awesome conversations with people around my excursions. In face-to-face, chat sessions, and online discussions, people talked with me not just about my usage but about the places I've been. "Oh, you checked in there? How was it?"
What initially had me experiment with and ultimately regularly use Foursquare was the aforementioned Jeff Jarvis and his book. It's an interesting book that had me morphed my thoughts about the nature of the digital life and how it does and doesn't mesh with the physical life. He explores the nature of digital media and the idea that "it's all out there" and what that means. There is a small library on the dangers of putting your "personal information" online, but I liked that Jarvis could rebut this in complex ways and critiqued some of the false assumptions about a public/private paradigm. Most compelling, he emphasized that the Constitution and Bill of Rights did not guarantee a right to privacy but rather, a right to publicness. In a democratic republic, this makes a good deal of sense. We are protected to have a public airing of thoughts, ideas, beliefs, etc. The closest thing to privacy within the original 10 Amendments is the search and seizure clause (4th) and the right to refuse testifying against one's self (5th). Ultimately, Jarvis' ideas had me thinking more deliberately about my online identity and the ways both functionally and passively I exerted control over it. Coupled with Amber Case's We Are All Cyborgs Now, and I realized that it made sense to make the physical Lance and digital Lance blend more together.
Ultimately, I'm finding that trying to keep these lives separated increasing pointless and contradictory. A "private" digital life ultimate is not attainable; in order to interact with another person via digital telecommunications, your information and actions are not only accounted for on numerous servers, but also scanned or noted by the numerous tools you are using from "autocorrect" to the tool (computer, mobile device) to the platform (browser, app, etc) are all virtually reading your actions and words. It's like claiming the right to a private conversation on public transit. It appears contradictory. Something like Foursquare helps me feel more honest about that the transparency of that divide.
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