Foursquare: The Stalker’s Delight

Growing up in Southeastern United States, it may not (or it may) be a surprise to hear one of the most often vocalized concerns from neighbors, friends, and what not was the government intruding on its citizens’ privacy. This concern, of course, was inflamed with the terrorist scare and the passing of the Patriot Act, and has since caused near hysteria in many alarmed civilians.

But let’s not go there. The issue I wish to address today is one of severe irony in light of the aforementioned worries. Despite Americans’ (and probably citizens living in other developed countries) outrage at the government’s intrusion on their rights, they continue to utilize tools that render the government’s job of tracking them laughably easy, social media and cell phones being two of the best examples. Yet there is one example that trumps them all.

Foursquare.

For the uninitiated, Foursquare is an app available on Android and iOS that enables users to quickly find the best places around town, be it restaurants, stores for shopping, or virtually anything else. It is a handy tool to make the user’s life easier. Oh, and it gathers information on the best spots to visit by having its users check in to locations when they arrive.

So let’s examine this. Man complains his privacy is being invaded, saying the government has no business knowing where he is and what he is doing all day. Man keeps his cell phone on him, a device with GPS tracking that, let’s face it, can be used by the government to pinpoint your location. As if that’s not bad enough, man goes to the bar and, as he sits down to order his favorite brew, pulls out that phone, opens up the Foursquare app, and broadcasts to the social media world, “Hey, this is where I’m at! Come stalk me please!”

Now, I’m not criticizing. If you don’t care that people know when you’re home, have at it. You can even give your domicile a clever title for your friends’ amusement. (My brother-in-law dubbed his domicile “The Bat Cave.”) And it’s all in good fun, right? I suppose, like people who do you Foursquare, I am a hypocrite, as well, since I use social media and have a cell phone on my person at all times.

Still, there’s something unsettling to me about alerting all my friends each time I step foot in my home or work. For my part, I’ll stick with occasional social media posts and use the Facebook check-in on the rarest of circumstances, like going to a really awesome concert. If you choose otherwise, well, we live in a (sort of) free country. And that means you can get a restraining order when you start attracting stalkers.

The Wonderful World of Google (And Modern Technology)

You know those questions you’re asked by your friends that you really don’t know the answer to? Inquiries such as, “What time does Zaxby’s close?”* or, “What is an off-lease computer?”** I have one answer to these types of questions.

“I don’t know. Google it.”

You, see, my entire life I’ve been so thankful to live in a technology-driven age. During the Industrial Revolution, that might have not been such a wonderful thing if you weren’t an aristocrat, what with being forced to endure the most appalling work conditions known to man. But today, with updated labor laws (at least in the US) and the choice to enter other industries than manufacturing, I can say I feel blessed to have the benefit of technology.

I know everyone wants to pull the “technology is evil” cliche, but the way I see, technology is like everything—yes, everything—mankind places its adulterated hands on. It can be used for good and evil. I choose to look at the good.

One of my biggest pet peeves? That most people don’t.

I’m not saying I’m surrounded by gloomy, morbid pessimists who spout technology’s evils like a religious nut, but most people I know live in oblivion toward technology’s bravura. I’m talking about the everyday, seemingly insignificant conveniences we’re afforded, like finding answers to those pesky questions our friends inexplicably believe we can answer.

Just the other day, I was speaking to a friend at work about renewing her car tags, since I just went through that annual experience about a month ago. She asked, “So what time did you wake up to get to the tag place?” It took me a moment to answer, not because I was shocked or didn’t understand her. I was confused.

The tag place? I understood what she meant—the horrible office, located who-knows-where, that handles tag renewals. I just didn’t understand why she presumed I would ever step foot in that dreadful government edifice. Why? BECAUSE WE HAVE THE FREAKING INTERNET!

When I got over my initial obfuscation, I just said with all the insouciance I could muster, “I did mine online.”

“Oh,” she replied, perplexed. “You can do that online?”

I wanted to smash a brick into my forehead. I know we’re talking about the government, but seriously, it’s 2013! Why wouldn’t you be able to do some menial, otherwise time-consuming task online? If these roles were reversed, my first question would be, “What?! Why can’t you just do that online?” It’s practical, quick, and you don’t even have to shower and dress, or, better yet, see all those people you don’t want to deal with.

Almost any question, routine task, or fleeting curiosity can be completed, answered, and laid to rest via the Internet, and with smartphones enabling a world of knowledge in our palms, it’s never been quicker or easier! Just like the time my brother-in-law John and I were trying to figure out how to remove an alloy tire from my far-too-complicated German automobile. Our first idea: look it up on our phones. We had the answer in about a minute.

In the same vein (and discussed in part two blog posts back), I am perplexed at why we have to make phone calls. Text messaging is quicker and, typically, more convenient. And printing things—oh my word! It seems in the professional/business realm, printing every stinking page you produce electronically is a necessity. I was so relieved during my internship my Senior year when my boss, Alison Lebovitz, turned out to be as tech-aware as myself. I still remember the Tennessee Aquarium Board meeting I attended with her when upwards of three handouts were passed around the table.

“Can we get all this in an email?” my boss asked, iPad on the table in front of her while the handouts were shoved aside—right in front of me, as if  to say, “Type this out in an email and send it to me if you have to. I DON’T WANT IT!”

Now, I understand some people are old-fashioned, and to each his own. Just don’t expect the world to slow down while you flip through your hardback dictionary instead of using a convenient app. Now if you’ll excuse me, dinner’s calling, and I need to Google the nearest sit-down burger restaurant.

*Zaxby’s typically closes at 10:00 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:00 p.m. on Saturday, and 9:00 p.m. Sunday.
**An off-lease computer means a company leased a computer to a company, it was returned, and now they are selling the computer.

Just a Text Message Away

Like some (but not most) people, there is a certain bit of technology I abhor. I mean, really abhor. This bit of 20th century advancement forces you to engage in colloquy with extremely painful—and superfluous—preamble. It is prosaic, mind-numbing, and, to be frank, time-draining.

Yes, I’m talking about the telephone.

Some love it, some hate it. I plummet far off the cliff of the latter side. Even in my youth, I couldn’t bring my hand to press the receiver against my ear to listen to the monotonous droning of whoever was on the other end. It was like torture, except I wasn’t even allowed to cry out in agony lest I be subject to chastisement and labeled a basket case. (I was at least able to eschew the former.)

Then, lo and behold: the text message! Like many in SMS’s early days, I was initially averse toward the technology. I found it obnoxious and impersonal.

And then I used it. At once I was introduced to the convenience of quick, short snippets of conversation, so tactfully carving away the excess, horrid fat of the exchange to reach the luscious, juicy, delectable center. It was brilliant! Never again would I be forced to endure a platitudinous dialogue consisting of the most irrelevant bits of information until reaching the heart of what needed to be said. Like a prayer answered, the art of conversation changed before my very eyes.

You see, I never had an appreciation for the “proper” way to do things. I am one of those annoying buggers that has an incessant proclivity to question why. Why should I wait behind a red light at 2 a.m. on the most inactive street in the city? Why should I care about the opinions of people I see in passing down the street and will never meet again? Why should I go through the motions in a phone conversation that nobody wants to go through before I ask for the favor I want?

Now, I understand the need to go through motions in a business setting (though I’ll confess my desire to see some change there, too). But seriously, if I have a question I know my uncle would have the answer to (hypothetical situation here), why do I need to ask him how he’s been, what his kids are up to, and what kind of car he’s driving now? He knows I’m not that curious, and let’s be honest, he hasn’t called me in the last seven years to see how my life’s going!

With the text message, you just throw out the question and wait for the answer. No wasting time, just what you need. (Yes, that should be a slogan.)

This also happens to come in handy in social situations. Remember when you had to play phone tag when you were trying to make plans with your friends? No longer. With text messaging, you pull up your friend’s number, shoot them a quick one-liner (“Wanna do something?” I find to be perfectly acceptable), and await the response. And you know there’s no chance you’ll miss it, and you won’t have to inconvenience yourself by waiting for a phone call.

Now, who wouldn’t prefer text to phone calls? Quicker, less painful. This guy’s only regret is that such technology hadn’t been realized sooner. His greatest hope is to hear the “I’ll call you” adage permanently replaced with the much more saccharine, blissful words: “I’ll text you.”