9.29.2012

Misuse Technology!

By Josh

Many activity guides for kids and their parents are anti-technology. Not UNBORED, though. Sure, we dig technology-free activities, but we also recognize how fun gadgets and gizmos and apps are — we use ’em ourselves. The trick is to use technology rather than being used by it; that is to say, technology should adapt itself to what we want out of life (e.g., fun, education, community) instead of forcing us to adapt to its built-in biases. Often, in order to make technology serve our ends rather than the other way around, it’s necessary to misuse it!

Take Foursquare, for example. Foursquare — a very popular location-based social networking app (aka “mobile location” or “discovery” app) for mobile devices like smartphones, which uses the GPS hardware in your phone to help you “check in” at whatever location you like, thereby earning yourself user points and sometimes “badges” — is not intended to be used by kids and their grownups. (For one thing, users must be 13 to have their own account, and the user interaction is not moderated — which is something that grownups worry about, for good reason, when it comes to their kids.) Foursquare is mostly used by 20somethings interested in friend-finding and nightlife-bragging, and badge-winning; that’s this app’s built-in bias.

But it’s such a neat app! That’s why my kids and I started misusing it.

In UNBORED, we explain how Foursquare is fun for kids and their grownups to use together because it transforms your real-world surroundings into a game. It’s an app that doesn’t just ask you to stare at a screen; instead, it encourages you to discover new places, get off the beaten track, and try something new in your own neighborhood or town. For those grownups who don’t want their kids glued to a screen all day long, but who also don’t want to ban screen time entirely, Foursquare is a fun compromise.

Some other notes about Foursquare and similar discovery apps: (1) Because you can leave notes about the venues where you’ve checked in, discovery apps are not only about announcing where you are, or localizing where a photo was taken, but about contributing to something bigger: collective intelligence! (2) There are creepy ways to use the data willingly surrendered by the users of these apps; this is why we insist that kids should not be using these apps on their own — they should be piggybacking on their parents’ use of the apps.

We’re interested in other location-based social apps for mobile devices, like Alfred, Trover, Crowded Room, Localmind, Scvngr, Path, and Glassmap… but there are only so many hours in the day. Do you and your grownups misuse apps like these, or other technologies? Tell us all about it!