Home Are Modern Web Apps Killjoys?

Are Modern Web Apps Killjoys?

Is ‘checking in’ at places using location-based mobile apps like Foursquare and Brightkite resulting in us enjoying life a little less? Is there such a thing as too much data for a fun activity such as running? We address these and other questions in the final installment of our interview with Adam Greenfield, author of Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing.

Modern web applications are packed with features that ostensibly connect us more to the real world and our activities in it. Foursquare uses location data to connect us with places and people. Nike+ shoes deliver data from your feet to your iPod. All of this new data from the real world is good progress, right? Yes, the more data the better! On the other hand, is our focus on data distracting us from actually enjoying life?

Adam Greenfield doesn’t like Foursquare, a location-based social networking mobile app that has become popular over the past year. He told me that he loved Foursquare at first and enjoyed ‘checking in’ at places. But then he found that he spent the first few minutes of going into a place updating Foursquare with his location, which he realized could be time better spent actually enjoying the place and socializing with the people around him.

Technology has always had an anti-social element to it. For example, Twitter. When you’re in a social situation and you stop to tweet it, that disconnects you from the real world (at least for 30 seconds while you tap out 140 characters on your mobile phone).

Step back further into the mists of technological progress and there is the issue of cellphone calls in social situations. When you’re talking with someone and that person’s cellphone rings, then they answer it and have a conversation with someone else on their cellphone – is there anything more annoying than that from a social point of view?

So technology can be anti-social; nothing new in that. But is a mobile location-based app like Foursquare not only anti-social, but also distracting us from enjoying our surroundings because we’re so intent on documenting where we are?

The counter argument is that products like Foursquare make it easier for you to meet up with your friends in real life, particularly if you’re young and socializing a lot. For example you might see that a few of your friends are at a local cafe or pub, so you go out to join them there. That definitely makes Foursquare a fun product. But it’s a use case that mostly applies to young, highly social people.

It’s not just location-based apps that are potentially killjoys.

Greenfield also spoke about his experience with Nike+ running shoes, which come with a sensor that tracks your run and sends the data to your iPod. As we explained earlier this month, Nike+ has its own social network. Nike+ can also send updates to Twitter and post a status report on Facebook.

According to Adam Greenfield, Nike+ changed the way he ran. Because the shoes could quantify his running performance, he said that they made him faster and more competitive. However, he also began to feel guilty if he missed a run – because the data would suffer as a result. So despite making him a better runner, the Nike+ shoes resulted in him “not having as much fun.”

What do you think – are you finding that modern web apps, whether location-based mobile apps or products with sensors or something else data-driven, are making you enjoy life just a little less? Are you focusing too much on the data, rather than just living life? Let us know in the comments.

See also Part 1 of our interview with Adam Greenfield, in which we discussed the impact of the iPhone and other smartphones on the Internet of Things. We also talked about the differences between the U.S. and Asia in adoption of these technologies. In Part 2, we focused on how the iPad may become the missing link between Internet-connected items in your home, for example the Internet fridge, and the Web.

Photo credits: whatleydude; Ed Yourdon

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