Several months ago, our roommate Chad told us about a phone app called Foursquare that let him “check in” to places he went, allowing him to get virtual points and badges for accomplishing certain goals and granting him the title of “Mayor” when he visited a location and “checked in” more than anyone else had done at that particular location. I thought it was interesting enough and so I installed it on my phone as well. I made the decision a few days ago that I was going to uninstall the program from my phone as well as blocking it from my Twitter so that I would not see when people used it. Here is why I made this decision.

It started when I was staring at the screen as it struggled to “check in” to a location. Whether it was a slow connection at the time or congestion on Foursquare’s server is irrelevant. I started thinking about how much time I had spent on the app — whether time spent actually checking into a location, thinking about checking into it, planning on where I would go based on check in, or even just staring at the screen getting impatient with the long time it sometimes took to check in.

I put this together with the unfortunate results of a test I have recently developed for determining the worth of something I call the “So What?” test. If I can’t come up with a sensible answer to the question “So what?” then it most likely is not worth much. For example, I state that I use the app Foursquare to “check in” to places I go every day. So what? So I then get points for checking in and get virtual badges. So what? So if I check into a place enough I become the “mayor” of that location. So what?

So nothing. So I get points that matter to nobody but me and badges that nobody will ever care about and earn titles that are completely meaningless. The app has its sinister aspects as well. Say, for example, that a married couple both check into a coffee shop miles away from home. Time to rob you! Nothing quite as bad as using a free piece of software to tell the world when you are most vulnerable.

We already live in enough of a Panopticonic world without volunteering our whereabouts to the world, several times a day. There’s no need to give away this precious information so freely in exchange for virtual trinkets of badges and fake mayorship. If you do not have foursquare I would recommend against getting it. If you do have it, on the other hand, I would suggest reconsidering its use–the benefits are far outweighed by the problems it causes.


  1. This is a brave article, Gordon! I know you’re big into social networking. What if Foursquare offered some sort of value-added discount for checking in? Would that make it more worth your while?

    I don’t use Foursquare, but I thought I read something about how they were enabling auto check ins using GPS so you’d get credit for your visits without having to interact with the App. Did that ever get implemented?

    When Google started their tracking service — ummm…. “Friend Finder” — in Google Latitude, I installed it and I was was horrified to see how fast that program ran down my battery and how specific it was in marking my every move. Creepy. Now we know our iPhones have been silently tracking us like that anyway… so I guess we should never hope to retain our privacy as long as our cellphones are turned on.

    1. Individual retailers already do offer treats for checking in and it still isn’t worth it to me. It’s aggravating and feels like I’m just wasting my time.

      I never saw the auto check in implemented nor any mention of it in the app as a forthcoming feature.

      I suppose if we don’t want to get tracked we can be like my father and just not have a mobile phone. 🙂

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