Off the playground; off the grid

It seems like Knoxville is a little behind the times with every fad that comes around.  We lag behind big cities as far as fashion (naturally), we’re not the focus group for independent films, and we’re not what they’re referring to when they say “Now showing in select cities.”  Hell, we didn’t even have a full-fledged sushi joint in town until a few years ago (I’m still not a fan).  Now we’re even playing catch up with social media websites. As if it isn’t enough to feel the need to broadcast what’s on your mind 24 hours a day or know who your friends’ other friends are, know you can announce where you are complete with a map and link the update to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Once only for major metropolitan areas, Foursquare has finally arrived in Knoxville.

Foursquare is a location-based game that users play from their mobile phones.  Basically, you check-in where you go, whether it’s your favorite bar, the park, a museum or any other public place.  You earn points for checking-in and adding new locations, and once you’ve checked-in more than anyone else, you become the mayor.  So far, the points are pretty much a useless badge of honor of sorts, but businesses have begun to offer discounts to mayors of their establishments.

From the Foursquare homepage, you can search your other social media accounts for other users who can be your 4sq friends.  My problem is that 4sq is so new to Knoxville I don’t have any local friends. My only friends are in Chicago, St. Louis and Atlanta, and that’s no too much fun so far.  Of course, if you had local 4sq friends and are checking in at a cool bar with a couple of girlfriends, don’t be surprised if other friends get the update and decide to stop by.  It’s for this reason that you can check in incognito, or check-in just to get the points but hide the actual location from being published. It’s called going “off the grid.”  Valentine’s night dinner with the hubby might not be the best time to publish your whereabouts.

As with any other service, there is a certain amount of etiquette that goes along with using 4sq.  It’s generally considered poor taste to check-in at your work.  You have to be there.  You shouldn’t be the mayor of your work.  But there’s a grey area.  I work on a university campus.  All of UT is not a single location.  There are dozens of buildings.  Since I work in the University Center, can I check in at the Haslam Building?  I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t check in at Rocky Top Café or Smokey’s since they’re in my building and I’m there every day.

Another point of 4sq etiquette—and something that’s wrong on more than one level— is adding your home address as a location.  You probably don’t want to advertise the fact that you’re at home way more than you go out, because you look like a homebody. But one downside to playing the game is when you check-in elsewhere, you’re publishing the fact that you’re not at home.  If you have a public Facebook or Twitter account linked to your 4sq game, it could be a hazard.  How many times have you tweeted about buying that new flat screen or beating someone at Halo on you’re your new xBox?  Combine unprotected tweets with your home address being made public on 4sq, you’re pretty much saying, “Please rob me.”  And someone has created a website with that same name.

With the motto “Listing all those empty homes out there” and in an attempt to bring awareness to the fact that you’re opening yourself and your home to a whole world of hurt, the site Please Rob Me posts actual Twitter users’ profile pics and tweets under the heading of “New Opportunities.” The website is based in Holland and has gained much attention since its inception.

The internet is a fluid invention, and is constantly in a state of movement, just like we are on a Saturday night, but publishing your whereabouts could prove to be a danger to your possessions.  It’s fun to engage in these memes and play all the little games, but don’t forget to exercise appropriate caution when you do


~ by jessiekrueger on March 14, 2010.

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