I was sitting in our weekly staff meeting the other day listening to program ideas for the coming month when someone at the table suggested, with some excitement, that we should have residents of the building play in a four square tournament on the back deck during the end of the year barbeque. Everyone seemed to like the idea and agreed. I, however, sat confused for a little longer than I was comfortable with. Foursquare? Why on earth would they want to have a foursquare tournament? How would that even work? So a bunch of kids on their phones…?
A few seconds later I caught up with everyone else and realized what was obvious to all of them—they were talking about the long lost game from my childhood that you play with a big red bouncy ball of which there never seemed to be enough of.
My initial confusion stemmed from what all the experts are saying is the next revolution in the online social world—location based social networking. Foursquare seems to be somewhat of a leader in this growing new space and it was this ‘foursquare’ that was the first to come to my mind. It really got me thinking, does it make me old to forget about playing four square on the playground, or should I feel hip and young because I know what the ‘new’ Foursquare is? Regardless, the image that entered my brain was like something out of Zombieland, that horror/comedy flick that came out a while back. I imagined a crowd of my residents wandering about in a fashion very similar to the undead from the movie, but instead of thirsting for flesh, they were slowly texting, tweeting, updating, blogging, and otherwise communicating online while completely ignoring the others physically around them. I thought, maybe this isn’t too far from the truth, I sometimes walk to class and see people shuffling past one another with their phone out, desperately trying to finish off that last text. I see people trip on nothing but the funny tweet, status update, or ‘text from last night’ they hold in their hand.
I’ll be honest, when I first heard of Foursquare and the like, I was pretty skeptical. Frankly, the idea that I would be giving out my exact location in real time was a bit unnerving. Plus, why would anyone even want to know that much detail about my life anyway? I thought this way for a few weeks until I had a reimagining. I signed up for one of the accounts just to see what was up and more selfishly, to be able to claim I was an early adopter in case it does become the next big thing. Anyhow, I began to question the initial concerns and came to the decision that another social networking tool like this one is actually good. Why is that? Didn’t I just describe students at my school as texting zombies? Well yes, and they are, but that is precisely why Foursquare can be a really great thing. Who knows how it will develop, but I can imagine a shift from the traditional mode of social networking and online friendship that takes place largely alone on one’s own computer, (Ask me about the residents on my floor that communicate exclusively via Facebook sometime) back to a scene out of That 70’s Show with a bunch of excited friends meeting over a jukebox and the soda machine.
You see, I’m not sure if they intended this or not—though I know the name must be at least somewhat an homage to the game—but the name Foursquare is actually perfect. It is a physical activity involving several other active people in the same space. I think that their mission is to promote the physical interaction and I see the potential in this location service to help build bridges from more static social mediums to the physical world. I really think that as we become more and more plugged into the location idea, the more it will actually push us back toward relationships that involve a lot more physical time together. The service promotes being active, meeting up, shouting out to friends nearby, and the best of all, it is a natural extension and evolution of the Twitter style of social networking that somewhat lacks the connection to physical relationships among people and places.
So is it good? Will it move us back to the physical contact we are slowly losing in society as a whole as more of life goes online? Is it just another opportunity for advertisers to target us? Is that a bad thing? Maybe I like customized ads some say…maybe I would like to feel like Tom Cruise/Mr.Yakamoto/whatever his name was in Minority Report when I walk into GAP. Imagine a nice sales associate greeting you by name and asking you how your previous purchase of assorted tank tops worked out. Nice right? Or maybe that scares you? Do you want people to know where you are every second? On top of that one has to consider the legal side of things. What are the rules for this? We know Facebook is mired in privacy concerns…does adding our location to our online presence expound the potential abuses of our privacy? Could it be dangerous? Do we care?
On the business side, I can’t help but be stoked about the advertising opportunities this presents, but is our social life imposed upon enough by marketing already?
Honestly, I am not sure. I don’t have all answers to—or even opinions—on all of my own questions. I don’t pretend to know how this will all play out, all I know is that I am all for the location sensation if it can help unite the online social world with the physical one and maybe get us all back to playing some four square on the play ground once in a while. Of course, after you do, be sure to tweet it about and post those pics on Facebook, I don’t want to miss them.