The introduction of something called Facebook "Places" this week should have everyone just a little bit concerned about where, exactly, this technological world is taking us. As I understand it, users of iPhones can use Places to let people know where they are by "checking in" when they arrive at, say, Moe's for a beer. Other Places users see you're there and, voila! Your posse is in place.
How I would have loved this back in my analog high school days, when missing a key phone call on a Friday night could leave me high and dry - something today's cell-phone wielding teens cannot remotely imagine. Now, Places takes that info-overload a step further, and one can certainly imagine its appeal for the most socially inclined among us.
Of course, there's a vast potential for misuse of this technology. You could be set upon by annoying advertisers, old boyfriends, that guy you all just ditched or, horror of horrors: your parents, who pop by the party house since they were "in the area." Extend those scenarios and you have the ex who's under a restraining order popping up at the restaurant, the stalker you've been trying to evade showing up at the mall or the IRS tracking your spending patterns. That's why privacy groups like the ACLU have already started weighing in on the dangers of Places, and why we're likely to hear a lot about all this in the weeks and months to come.
Facebook, no doubt, will counter that the service is entirely voluntary. But while that may be true, the reality is today's teens and 20-somethings are so embedded in the FB culture that being on the Places bus may be hard to resist - and it's likely many young users won't give much though to the potential pitfalls when they click whatever box to join. This is the generation that posts compromising photos of themselves or other personal information that comes back to bite them later (some employers now do routine Google searches on prospective employees just to see what might turn up to offer unsavory character references).
Places is so Orwellian as to surpass even what Orwell imagined in books like "1984" and "Animal Farm." It's not cameras or listening devices checking up on everyone; it's even worse: voluntarily putting monitoring devices on our person to be exploited in who knows what evil ways. What's next, I wonder - the FB Places Chip that goes under the skin?
I'm no conspiracy theorist, but this stuff scares me. New studies coming out about the connected world are raising alarms about how always being "on" is detrimental to our well-being. When work follows us via e-mail, 24/7 on our Blackberries; when our every mood or thought is recorded for all to see on Facebook; when our laptop or smart phone is always on, always online and always making us available to the world - where's the down time? As many hyper-wired folks will admit, voluntarily turning stuff off or stepping away is tough to do when these devices - and the connectivity they provide - become part of the very fabric of our lives. A decade ago, a cell phone was an optional accessory. Today, not having one is like saying you don't have a television. When my 9-year-old asks for a cell phone for his birthday (a deadly serious request that was denied; the standard, we told him, is when he starts middle school), it's time to wonder why we all think we need to be so in touch and on the grid at all times.
Cell phones, maybe, but Places? No thanks.
Summit Daily editor Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com or (970) 668-4618.