Some of you may be familiar with Foursquare, the fast growing location-based mobile application that encourages people to explore local businesses and check-in for points, potential discounts etc. Like many, I was initially a bit hesitant with the check-in service because I couldn’t quite understand its value.
Two years ago, I asked an early Foursquare adopter what he got out of Foursquare. His response- “It’s the future”- didn’t quite satisfy. Recently, I took another unscientific poll. Responses ranged from: “It’s pretty cool- I get free shots checking in at a bar!” to “It’s pointless.”
Well, let me take a stab. This is primarily an argument for Foursquare, but can also serve as a general defense of technology. It is inspired by a thoughtful post from my dear friend Sarah Kaiser-Cross’s blog about Modern Day Nomads.
In prehistoric times, humans peeked their curious heads out of their caves and thought, “Maybe there’s something beyond this cave. Let me take a look.”
They found rivers to swim in, branches to swing from, and tribes to powwow with. Boom- the world became their playground. Barter systems were established, log cabins constructed, new hunting practices developed.
The world was changed.
Today, we operate on slightly different terms. We peek out of our mobile devices and think, “Maybe there’s something beyond the www. Let’s go out.”
We then venture into the concrete jungle- vastly more commercialized than that of our predecessors -and experience a world replete with social transactions.
The digital sphere thus serves as a supplement. Correction: a lifestyle. We garner Foursquare badges, spout tweets, and virtually check-in. The world whizzes by. It seems like the future has arrived before we’ve fully appreciated the present. But I’d argue it’s not much different from the days of the past.
To me, Foursquare check-ins are just new ways of saying “Hello. Check this place out. And hey, did you know x y & z about it?”- almost like a simple hand wave from one caveman to another. Almost.
In our ‘shrinking world’, it’s easy to decry information overload. Enough! Among my less technologically-inclined friends, I am often sub-consciously in defense mode when it comes to my technological habits. Why do I blog? Why do I tweet? Why do I check-in? Who cares?
Here’s my response. With or without all this virtual chatter, we are all explorers. Discovery is not new; it’s a prehistoric disposition. Foursquare simply aids an innate quality.
Since coming to New York, I’ve used Foursquare to explore my surroundings. I’ve gained helpful tips from user reviews of restaurants I would otherwise know nothing about. Last week, I discovered a new restaurant (The Masala Wala) through Foursquare’s Explore tab, which afterward became the first addition to my list of “regulars”- a compilation of my favorite ‘highly recommended’ places. Just as I have gained value from the opinions and feedback of others, I share and publicize so that others may find my tips helpful as well.
Foursquare is also being used at universities to enhance knowledge of historic buildings on campus. Some universities including the University of Florida are looking into leveraging the Foursquare API so locations on the map can have user-generated content, such as photos, according to Bruce Floyd, lead social media specialist at UF.
We don’t live in an information age, we live in an age of networked intelligence. Foursquare is at the center of this movement to help us discover good things that are worth our time and money through the most basic additions to our existence: fellow humans.
As our world grows smaller, I understand why skeptics continuously ask, WHY? And I appreciate it. To retain our humanity, we must continuously ensure that each new tool truly adds value, lest our minds be inundated with clutter.
For me, Foursquare’s value lies in its ability to tie the past, present, and future. We live in the future with the virtual check-ins, yet engage in communal practices originated from the past, while enhancing our experience NOW.
As Sarah describes, the modern day nomads are the people more businesses will want to resonate with:
The modern day nomads come in every shape, size and color. We are the people who break barriers. We are the people to introduce ourselves to someone who has never met an American, we are the people who eat tongue or intestines and enjoy it, we are the ones who learn the cultural dialect no one else speaks, we are the ones who are changing the world. Never staying in one place, the desire to experience the new, the unknown is unquenchable. Packing up and landing in the next place, the modern day nomads are a continuation of the nomadic developments since the beginning of time. We, however, are different in one very important way. We’ve got Facebook. ha. Just kidding. But really, we have the ability to spread our new-found knowledge, self and cultural awareness to others. Understanding is the only way to stop war, suffering, stereotypes and misinformation. So, fellow nomads, lead well, learn much, and share what you’ve learned so the world can learn with you.
We are explorers. Complain all you want, but technology like Foursquare taps into our human drive for discovery and social connection. Use it and you might find yourself saving money, time, and learning more about the world around you. What can be more basic and beautiful than that?