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Lucia Seda ’12: Checking into ‘Places’

By
Opinions Columnist
Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lately, the Social Network par excellence (a.k.a. Facebook) has been the epicenter of numerous changes that range from aesthetic modifications of profile pages to the introduction of new features for registered users. One of these is the “long awaited location feature, Facebook Places.” With this new application you can check into places like cities, restaurants, bars and libraries directly from your phone — it is understood that this applies to owners of iPhones, and most recently, Blackberries — and publish the information on your profile.

Already, our Facebook statuses reflect all sorts of features from our daily lives: our states of mind (for college students, it tends to be one of perennial exhaustion), our academic frustrations (“I cannot take it anymore with (insert class here)!”) and our upcoming plans (“New York for the weekend!”). But with the new “Places” feature, you can now tell your omniscient Facebook friends where you are at all times. It’s kind of a personalized “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” cybernetic game for the newer, technologically savvy generation.

More and more, Facebook is becoming a refined tool for disseminating information of the personal kind. Gone are the days when you sporadically logged in to see pictures of your friends and the two or three posts on your wall. The new face of Facebook allows you to comment on photos, posts and friendships, and now, the added feature of “Places” gives you the chance to become the spokesperson of your own location.

The act of pinning yourself down on the map for the Facebook world to see prompts me to ask. What is the point in doing this? Is it because people feel the need to report to that ubiquitous Big Brother, who’s always scrolling down on your profile to see what you have been up to in the past few days? I’m not even sure how you are supposed to react to this piece of information that randomly pops on your home page when you least expect it. Is the newsflash intended to “poke” (pun intended) at that tiny ounce of jealousy that’s hidden somewhere beneath your indifferent stalking (“I wish I were having dinner on Federal Hill too!”), or is it a tacit hint that gives you license to show up and join the club?

Whatever the reasons, I’m nevertheless tempted to think that there is some part of us that, perhaps mechanically, feels the need to inform the world of our whereabouts because we want those nameless “someones” to know. Checking into places like Starbucks or “The Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center at Faunce House” can invite company, but checking into fancier “Places” like restaurants on Wickenden or bars in downtown Providence aims at a different target — it is no accident that you “check in” to these places as you would “check in” at a hotel.

Either way, the action is meant to excite the interest of the invisible “Other” — the sedulous Facebook stalker who’s looking at us from an undefined Panopticon and is constantly aware of our moves, our new friendships and our history of wall-to-walls with a particular friend.

I tend to be partially obsessive-compulsive with many aspects of my life, so maybe this Facebook privacy paranoia is simply another feature of my deliberate effort to preserve my incognito status as much as I can. Yet I can’t help but question the significance of heralding in our presence in such an explicit manner. This feature momentarily places a given person on an exact geographical latitude, but it also allows the respective “others” to track that friend’s activity and see how many times he or she has checked into that place before — or any other place, for that matter. It’s a personal record of your whereabouts that is eerily reminiscent of those years back in high school when we had to sign our names and destination (restroom, water fountain or school infirmary) in a class list in order to get a hall pass from our teachers.

One of my favorite everyday moments at Brown is whenever I run into someone I know either on Thayer Street or elsewhere on campus. Sometimes a wave is enough to acknowledge the presence of the other; sometimes you walk over to the Rock carrel and whisper to your close friend: “I knew you’d be here!” Other times you see a familiar acquaintance studying at Au Bon Pain and despite the rush to get to class on time, you tap on the window closest to the booth and say, “I’m surprised to see you here!” I’d like to think that there is still a certain beauty in the uncertain, in the unexpected, in the unplanned sight of a friend. So until then, I won’t be making any public check-ins. At least not for the Facebook world to know.

Lucia Seda ’12 is a comparative literature concentrator from San Juan, Puerto Rico. She can be contacted at Lucia_Seda@brown.edu.

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