Location services, Foursquare promise danger, but also wonder
Location services and apps like Foursquare let kids 'check in' on social media in a fun way to create a digital diary, interact with friends, and learn about new places to visit. However, broadcasting kids' locations to the world comes with some inherent risks.
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-- Mind-Numbing ConformitySkip to next paragraph
James Norton got his professional start at the Monitor as an online news producer, before moving over to edit international news during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Since leaving the Monitor in 2004, he has worked as a radio producer, author, and food blogger.
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Certain places don't make for rock-star level check ins: Grandma's assisted living facility, the coin and stamp store, the hobby shop, and so forth. And others may be almost required to show that you're with it: particular parties for example.
Teenage life (like life in general, come to think of it) is a precarious balancing act between being who you want to be and who you think everyone else thinks you should be, and check-in services just add one more layer of information and monitoring to the sometimes nasty little fishbowl that is middle school and high school life.
For the places that leave you less cool just for having associated with them, the obvious answer to this is simply not to check in. And as for running with the pack to the places that be ... well, it's something teens will have to grapple with regardless of their access to location-based services.
-- Create a Living Diary
The old-fashioned idea of keeping a diary may be waning in popularity (at least inasmuch a diary needs to be written with pen on paper), but having a document that we can reflect upon to see our growth and evolution will never cease to be interesting. And that's where something like Foursquare or Facebook actually becomes a new way to solve an old problem – the logs of where we've been (and who with) may have changed in form, but they're still accessible. And more and more services are springing up to convert the digital and ephemeral into something more tangible (like this neat app that turns your iPhone photos into photo albums).
-- Discover New Places
The world is a big, complicated place, particularly for kids growing up in urban areas where the number of cafes, parks, restaurants, and other hotspots is essentially without limit. Check-in services can be a way to travel vicariously and get a sense of what else is out there – and inspire travel and exploration.
-- Bond with Friends
The flip-side of bullying is friendship - the joys of having a group of close friends to share life with as a counterpoint to all the chaos and stress of growing up. Check ins tell you what your friends are up to and where they are, and that's one of the real upsides – and truly "social" aspects – of social media.
-- Spend Money More Wisely
A service like Foursquare is more than just a way to trumpet to the world where you happen to be at a give moment – it's also an opportunity to share tips or lists of tips about specific cool things to do at that place, whether it's a restaurant, a park, or a shopping mall. By allowing their users to tap into collective knowledge, check-in based services can actually enhance their users' experiences of wherever it is they happen to be going. And certain location-based applications can offer discounts or other ways to maximize fun while holding down costs ... a real plus for a teenager on a limited budget, which is to say a goodly percentage of teenagers everywhere.