I was hooked — digitally addicted — to my location-based social networking mobile app. Everywhere I went, every store, school, cafe, building, restaurant, you name it, every place that I came close to, I had to FourSquare.
How does it work? The rules are these: you open the app on your mobile device and let it search for your location, when you spot your location on a GPS populated list, you ‘check-in’ to get points, compete for mayorship and collect badges. Don’t see your location? Easy. Just add it to the list so others can check in too. Now this is where the rules get a little blurred. If you can add places, what’s to stop someone (like me) from creating places that no one else would check-in to (like, for example, a concrete slab)? In the spirit of fair competition, this is where the purists stick to the unwritten FourSquare code:
- Check-in only if you are actually at the location
- If you must create a place, create it so that others can check-in too
This is where I lost my way. As addicted as I was, I began checking-in to places as I drove by, without actually being at the location. I created places like the ‘concrete slab’ and my ‘bike pole’ to poke fun at the system, but really what I was after was the extra mayorships and a higher points ranking on my friends list. I wanted to be the mayor of my kids school, my office, my Starbucks, my Church, and my own backyard, for god’s sakes! When I look back on it now I realize how bad it really was when I kept checking-in to my local closed-down restaurant just to have the bragging rights.
It became a fetish. A justifiable reason to pull out my phone everywhere I went and then to gloat about how many points, badges and mayorships I had. So why did I quit cold turkey? An associate of mine who also recently quit, put it best when he said,
“I wasn’t living in the present. I was always worried about checking in. It became an addiction. It was when we went away on vacation, when I didn’t have an internet connection all the time to be able to check-in that it was like a cloud had lifted. And now I just don’t want to pick up the habit again.”
Don’t get me wrong, FourSquare is a great way to find new places and try new things. Recent updates to the app allow users to search for places nearby by category, and reading reviews of a place while you’re there is a very powerful tool for consumers. Even more powerful is the brand/merchant aspect of the application where businesses can attract and connect with customers by providing them with discounts and incentives for checking-in and becoming mayor. It is unfortunate though, that this hasn’t actually picked up on a wide-scale basis in Canada.
Last summer while on vacation in Sicily, where the app hadn’t really picked up in popularity yet, I was able to check-in to various beach towns and pizzerias enough times to actually become mayor. After returning home to Toronto, someone contacted me through LinkedIn and asked how a Canadian had become the mayor of his small town in Italy. We are now business acquaintances. (Of course, he ousted me from my mayorship soon after the initial introduction.)
Other location-based social networking sites include We&Co, LocalMind, Groupon, Twitter and of course Facebook. Each of these use the location aspect to varying degrees of effectiveness, but somehow none of them had the same kind of allure for me as the glowing green check-in button of FourSquare.
It wasn’t easy giving it up. I’ve resisted the gleam of the FourSquare app for 6 weeks, 5 days, and 9 hours and I am now back in tune with my physical interactions with time a space. Thanks for the ride, foursquare, it was fun while it lasted.