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Posted by Prasad Krishna at Oct 15, 2010 04:35 AM |
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Geo-tagging applications are creating new and impromptu communities of true.

As somebody who thinks he is quite “with it” when it comes to digital technologies, my universe was slightly shaken by a bunch of screen-agers. I asked them if they blogged. There were 10 seconds of awkward silence, in which they exchanged looks, cleared throats and fidgeted. I thought I had perhaps crossed a line and they might be uncomfortable sharing their personal blogs with me. The universe of blogs is often restricted to close friends. I was just about to reassure them that they did not have to share theirs, when a bold one looked me in the eye and said, “You still blog? You must be so old! Blogging is, like, so 20th century!” The school kids, their pockets bulging with iPods, PSPs, cellphones and Bluetooth devices all nodded in unison.

It was a startling realisation that about a decade ago, there were young people, largely in schools and universities, for whom blogging was the coolest thing. Sites like LiveJournal, Blogspot and Wordpress were the hottest addresses. People formed communities, interest groups, meet-up platforms, swap groups and cool-kids’ clubs while providing detailed insights into their personal life and incisive commentary on the world around them. Blogging has been accepted by all sectors of society; governments use them for the dissemination of policies and reports, marketing companies use them to share reviews and invite feedback, schools and universities use them as teaching tools.

However, after this unsettling adventure, I decided to figure out where the younger generation was spending its time. A little bit of prodding and the screen-agers guided me to interfaces that were more than just screens to access the internet. And so I was introduced to FourSquare, the geo-tagging application that rides on your cellphone and publishes information about your physical location. An app which has become a rage around the world. With the easy availability of smart phones and cheap GPRS access, it has become easy to triangulate one’s position using Global Positioning Systems (via satellite) or your Internet Service Providers. FourSquare, like many other applications, blurs the ever decreasing gap between virtual reality and real life, and now allows users to “check in” at locations that they pass through and publish information about their whereabouts, on sites like Facebook or especially dedicated sites.

For the digital native it has become a way of forming a support group and a peer network like never before. Of the six digital natives I spoke to, at least two keep track of their close friends through this app. All of them have participated in flash parties, one met his girlfriend because they happened to be in the same coffee shop and sent each other messages. Two confessed to “stalking” somebody in school using the app. And then one told me the story of how FourSquare helped her in a sticky situation. Let’s call her R.

One night, after a study session with her friends, R and her roommate started their 2 km walk home. On the way, they became aware of a group of boys following them. They were only half-way home and the streets were completely deserted, since it was past midnight. R posted about it on FourSquare, and marked the route she was taking home and sent it to all the people who had checked in at different places on that route. And to her relief and surprise, she immediately received messages on “how to be safe”. One enterprising user asked all the users still awake on the route that R and her friend were taking to come out and stand at their gates. In a matter of minutes, R was delighted to see the streets no longer deserted. On the short walk home, she encountered 17 people, mostly young, standing by and seeing them home to safety. R recalls the incident with pleasure.

When I asked her about the possibility of somebody else harassing them because they knew they were vulnerable, she looked a little perplexed and said, “but they were all my friends,” despite the fact that she did not know any of them and had never met them. They were together in a design of trust that the application provided and because of their digital commonalities, they had become friends and neighbours and communities of support for each other. “And now you are going to blog about it, aren’t you?” asked R, as all of them burst into giggles.

Read the original in Indian Express

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