I know, I know, I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle. On the one hand I love social networking, work in social media marketing, and check in with Foursquare. On the other, I’m righteously indignant that Facebook insists on publishing my fan pages and friends list to make a buck. I think geolocation is so cool, but I’m worried that we’re cutting down the privacy forest faster than the hairy-legged tree planters of social convention can reseed it. If there’s no trees, we’ll all be able to see each other going to the bathroom.
Wired experimented with it, arming one poor writer with an armada of GPS-enabled tech & watching his psychological breakdown. Mashable terrified us with it, making us consider the looming specter of personal injury & property loss. Location sharing is the big cool thing for 2010. But is location awareness just TMI for the careful constrains of society as we know it?
It’s weird on a fundamental level to think that one day soon you might be found, contacted, hassled, marketed to, located at any time. People like time off. People need to pull the covers over their head at some point during the day and say “enough”. Blackberries, cell phones, the ominous eye of the Google Streetview car, all intrude on our personal domain and connect us, however inconveniently at times, to other people.
It’s not just that people know what movies you like and what pages you’re a fan of. The new location-aware web will let them know where you literally are. How to get to you at all times.
This is more than a breach of a general sense of decorous privacy. This is an encroachment into our most personal resource, our time. Our attention, our thoughts, are diverted, captured, required by others. A rising sense of panic accompanies the sensation you might never be alone again.
Is this becoming the norm, or are sensible people fighting back? Please Rob Me drew big attention this week for aggregating location-aware tweets and check-ins, serving up a handy buffet of robbery opportunities. This pointed misuse of geolocation “games” highlighted the dark side of knowing where people are all the time, and ForTheHack, its creators, are turning the real estate over to raise online privacy awareness.
The privacy outcry surrounding Google Buzz is another voice of reason. No, please don’t tell the whole world who I correspond with. The gravity and speed with which privacy came front and centre with Buzz’ clumsy release was a bucket of cold water on the overheated social-hungry masses.
Currently geolocation is optional. You tell Foursquare or Gowalla or whoever where you’re at. It’s fun, if you don’t think about it too much. We’re embracing it because it’s futuristic and kind of convenient. I experimented with WhereTheFlock, an iPhone app that lets you locate your family members, to spare you the “Are you on your way home yet?” dinner-related phone calls. Handy.
Am I being paranoid? What will we lose if people know where we are? A lot of it seems to do with exposing things we’re “not supposed” to be doing.
- Calling in sick at work
- Hanging out with an ex
- Gambling at a casino or racetrack
- Drinking at a bar
- Recreational shopping
You may not want to get caught doing some of those things; that’s up to you. Kind of like your life is up to you. The argument “If you don’t want anyone to know about it, don’t do it”, disingenuously posited by Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt, is absurd and intolerable to civilized man, posessed of dignity, free will, and the intelligence to follow his conscience.
Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.
Location awareness may turn out to have some amazing benefits, like finding our phones (or our kids) when they’re lost. Many a sci-fi dystopia presents surveillance as the norm. Or it may turn into a miasma of advertising and guilty explanations of our unseemly whereabouts.
I was raised on the Manitoba prairie, a place so empty that you can see only the curve of the earth and the blur of atmosphere as your eye falls on miles and miles of uninterupted space. That instills a special kind of solitude in a person, and I’d hate to ever lose that refuge. Especially for pizza coupons.