But, she said she would feel a loss. Location tracking is a specific type of experience. Snap Inc. certainly thinks so: It offers “a new way to see and explore the world… a completely personalized view of the landscape,” a spokesperson said. The map portrays a subjective rather than objective sense of space, comforting in the face of a “loneliness gap” wherein some people are far more connected than others, and the lonely and not-lonely have little overlap. I feel most like I’m in a place when a friend sends a screenshot of the street corner I’m smoking on from a simplified aerial view. It confirms that I exist, to someone.
The pandemic altered the friendships we had before, and how we make new ones now. In 1990, 33% of Americans said they had 10 or more close friends. In 2021, 13% did. An Australian study on inequalities in isolation found that “Expansive [digital] networks are unlikely to stimulate connections and reduce loneliness if they are passive (lurking) rather than active (interactive). Either way, those lacking preexisting social capital connections are likely to become lonelier after lockdown.”
Maybe young people aren’t getting up to enough shady shit. Certainly not the ones on Live360, marketed as a family safety tool that sends notifications when “Marcus has arrived safely at School” or if his sister is driving over the speed limit. But all of us who casually and indefinitely reveal our whereabouts are self-limiting to only being places and doing things that we’d be OK with people knowing. We don’t need a panopticon watcher if citizens are doing the work of surveilling each other.
“Lurking” is exactly what we do on location apps. It comes out of a sense of longing. The prevalence of geotags coincides with a dearth of public space, where people bump into one another in Jane Jacobs’s “ballet of the good city sidewalk.” Increasingly inside, we wonder where the other dancing humans are.
“What is supposed to create a sense of connection is instead creating a sense of codependency,” Fedrick said. “What’s really healthy is independence and, even further, interdependence, where a relationship takes on a sense of, ‘You do your thing, I do my thing, and we get to choose to come together and do our thing together.’ [Geolocation] technology takes away from the ability to choose.” ●