For awhile I was enjoying a location-based app called Gowalla on my iPhone. Similar to FourSquare, it allows you to collect virtual “stamps” for creating “spots” in real-world locations, assigning them to categories, and dropping or picking up items in a scavenger hunt-style. You can then broadcast to your Gowalla friends, Facebook, or your Twitter feed when you check in at any of these spots.
It was (and is) a fun, clever idea. I enjoyed similar activities in the MMORPGs City of Heroes and World of Warcraft, which was known affectionately in CoH as “badge-whoring”. During the initial giddy rush of having a new shiny with juicy, colorful graphics, I annoyed my Facebook friends and Twitstream by posting my spots at every opportunity. Rather quickly, however, I began to think that posting my current whereabouts publicly may not be such a good idea. I turned off the Gowalla feed to Twitter within a week and, about a month after that, the Facebook feed. Currently, the only people who can see my latest Gowalla update (rare though they’ve become) are specific friends who are also on Gowalla. Other Gowalla users can see your latest checkins, if they search on the Gowalla.com site specifically for your name or email address, or by picking an existing spot and seeing all the users who have checked in there. Not 100% secure, but slightly more reasonable.
The point is, though these things can be fun, not only are you telling everyone where you’re at, you’re also telling them where you are not:
As reported by an article on TechCrunch today, a group of guys went way past my own vague sense of unease and created a site to warn people of the dangers of screaming, “Here I am!” to the entire world: Please Rob Me.com.
If you’re a FourSquare user (currently the only location-based app being tracked), and broadcast your location on Twitter, take a look at the site and the constantly updating list of currently empty homes. Now plug in your Twitter name. See how easy that was?
Granted, a potential robber would have to know where your house is to take advantage of the information, but if it’s someone who already knows you and is looking for an opportunity to help him- or herself to your stuff, you may as well hand them your keys and a bag to carry it in (paper or plastic?).
The sudden advent of Google Buzz caught me off guard. Unlike Wave, I hadn’t heard any “buzz” (I’m so sorry, but how could I resist?) about this at all, and I usually keep up on the latest Next Great Thing.
After a bit of poking around at it I saw that it could very well be for individuals what Wave can be for groups. Rather than being excited, however, I found myself…weary. “Not another one!” I sighed.
I’m suffering from what I’ve just this very moment decided to call “Connection Fatigue”: having your attention divided by so many social network services (as opposed to actual social networks) that you exhaust yourself trying to keep up with all of them. Making a quick mental count of them, I’m up to about…um…ten accounts, including ones I barely use, or stopped using and just haven’t deleted them. That doesn’t include IM networks, either.
I can spend most of what might have been a productive day just bouncing from one to the other, writing posts, or reading and commenting on others’. When I’m not doing that, I’m surfing them to make sure I don’t miss anything. By the end of the day my already inherently-challenged attention is so fragmented that I can’t seem to focus on anything, and it feels like my mind has been reduced to colorful confetti and scattered across the world.
In a typical week the computer is the second place I go to in the morning (after the bathroom, naturally) and the last place I’m at before bed. I’m in front of one nearly all day for work. I have all my social network services available on my iPhone in case I’m not at a computer. If I don’t check on things for awhile, I start getting antsy, and will find myself interrupting another activity to take a quick look. I am completely enmeshed.
Traveling to Aruba over Christmas revealed an interesting twist to this. Roaming wireless data service on the island cost about $10 per megabyte, and text messages were about $1.50 each. Once Aaron and I resumed breathing, after the sticker shock wore off, we quickly shut the phones down and put them in the safe. Most of the time we were out doing things, even if it was just lying on a beach, and only hooked up our laptops to (briefly) check on things in the evening. Otherwise, we were entirely off the grid, for the most part. The thing is, I didn’t miss it. Being disconnected because reaching the Internet was impossible, unfeasible, or just plain costly really didn’t bother me at all, and in most ways it was a relief to unplug. The only times I found myself reaching for the iPhone that wasn’t there was when I wanted to look up some fact that had been mentioned in a conversation. The problem arises when I have the Internet right at my fingertips, and refuse to access it constantly. I might miss something!
I’m not saying it’s all bad, of course. I’ve met a lot of great like-minded (and not so like-minded) people because of LiveJournal and, despite all the bitching many people do about it, Facebook has somehow become nearly indispensable for keeping up with folks and organizing activities. I resisted Facebook for a long time and only created an account in the first place so I could see some pictures that a friend had posted. When I wasn’t looking, it managed to creep in and put down solid roots, almost against my will.
Also, the fact that I have instant access to almost the entire sum of human knowledge, in my pocket no less, still fills me with a sense of awe when I stop to think about it. In fact, let me repeat that so it sinks in:
You have instant access to the entire sum of human knowledge and history. For anyone with a smartphone, you have that in your pocket. Does that not just blow you away when you consider it? In the thousands of years of civilization, such a thing simply did not exist until about 20 years ago.
Despite the good points, my original problem remains: I am overconnected and mentally suffering for it.
So here’s the plan: I am withdrawing all of my extraneous Internet presence, and pruning what remains. As I import old posts, I’m shutting down my blogs on Vox and Posterous. I’ll import LiveJournal, but I’m keeping the account open because I have good friends who still post there. I’m discarding everything I signed up for because it was new and shiny, but never found myself using: LinkedIn, rrripple, etc. The Facebook friends list will be stripped of folks I never communicate with, or are only on there because we went to the same school once (there goes the size of my Mafia Wars clan!). When I finish, I plan to be down to a few core services: Gmail, this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr for pictures. Even Flickr may be on the chopping block, depending on how much work I feel like doing to move all my pictures to this server. As for Buzz, well, that will be hard to avoid, since it’s right there in my Gmail window. Hopefully, doing all this will help defragment my life a bit.
By the way, the irony of using a social network service on the Internet to bitch about social network services on the Internet is not lost on me.