It’s 6pm, you are just getting home from work. You immediately freshen up and head to a nearby restaurant. You arrive at the restaurant, take out your cell phone and “check in” to Foursquare or Gowalla. You are seated, you order your dinner, take out your phone and tweet something you heard or saw go by. You finish your dinner, tweet how amazing it was, pay the bill, and then tweet again about what bar or establishment you are going to next for after dinner entertainment.
This seems to be the evening of a lot of people, as evidenced by browsing Twitter and the location based services I noted. I’ll be the first to admit it has been one of my habits. But, after a great deal of thinking about it, I wonder what these services really add to anything we do in our day to day lives, particularly the location based services.
What’s the Matter With Us?
Twitter has its place, it is a communication tool. Different people use it in different ways that make sense to them. Foursquare and Gowalla do not share the same kind of necessity as Twitter, just a niche novelty that, honestly, is kind of cool. Do we need such tools? My guess is that we don’t; They are just a new form of entertainment. Maybe it is just me, but I feel as though I am pulled in a bunch of directions by these different things. Add on top of them Google Reader for keeping up with news and other blogs, e-mail, Facebook, and whatever else you can think of, and it seems to become more work than it is worth.
The few times I have been incommunicado, the more obvious it has become that I need these tools less and less. Sure, their novelty is nice, but at what cost? What else could I be devoting my time to rather than letting people on Foursquare (some whom I don’t even know) see where I am at?
Is there a bigger trend here? Have we created the beginning of a time when verbal communication is no longer completely necessary? A lot of people think that children who are homeschooled are socially inept, to which I disagree and point out that more kids text today than talk on the phone. Not only do they text, but they have created a subset, shorthand language to do so. Maybe they are not inept but they have certainly begun a move away from “normal” communication, making further moves even easier.
Sure, there are other time wasters out there, there always have been. The difference now is that the time eating opportunities are constantly with us, no matter where we go. For me, this seems to speed daily life up, like fast forwarding an old VCR Cassette. We’re having the information thrown in front of us so fast that we do not have the time to really consume it. In a way, this pushes us apart. We are listening to people, but not really hearing them because we are distracted.
Can We Fix This?
We already have started to try. There are a number of people who have abandoned Twitter, Gowalla, Foursquare, MySpace, and Facebook out of a need to slow down and get back to normal. I am not suggesting the tools are causing the problems, they are simply making it easier for us to go through the motions of less communication and less interaction.
For me, fixing this means moving away from the tools as my entertainment and instead using them when necessary and filtering them often. A mass delete of the applications is not going to help you and it certainly is not the answer. Understanding what kind of time you spend on the services and how it affects your day to day activities is the way to start. From there, it’s up to you on whether it’s too much and how to correct it.
This definitely is not a call to abandon ship, it is me looking at what I have noticed over the past couple of years and asking others to do the same. What are your thoughts? Is this a bad path we are following or am I completely crazy and paranoid?