I was wandering among the hectares of trade show at SXSW, astonished at its size and the amount of money all these companies had put into the effort of promoting themselves, when someone dressed in a costume of some sort (including their head, so I wasn't aware of their gender) handed me another piece of paper. I slipped it into my bag, after commenting that they weren't getting paid enough, which elicited a grunt of agreement, and we went our ways.
Back at the hotel, I emptied my bag of its various bits of crap and there was the thing I'd been handed. Here's what it said, with visual comments on the clip art:
* Share the MOVIES you watch (picture of empty theatre with screen showing 20th Century Fox logo)
* Share the TV SHOWS you watch (lots of people dressed in white with wireless microphones, presumably American Idol or somesuch)
* Share the BOOKS you read (East Asian woman with furrowed brow intent on a paperback)
* Share the MUSIC you listen to (blue sky, white clouds, young woman staring into middle distance wearing blue knit cap, huge metal earphones clamped over her head and ears)
* Share the GAMES you play (family playing Wii in suburban living room)
* Share the MAGAZINES you read (grey-haired guy peering up over the top of the Economist, image made disturbing by the fact that it's reversed and has a large headline we can't read)
* Share the DRINKS you drink (wooden table in ritzy restaurant, three bottles of wine in foreground)
* Share the MEALS you eat (closeup of, um, hard to tell, but it's meat)
Then the kicker, so you know what this is: "Start socializing@IJUSTSHARED.COM."
Now, taken individually, I think these are swell suggestions. I hate going to the movies alone, am known to pass along my New Yorker and New York Review subscriptions, recommend not drinking alone, think American Idol is only tolerable when there's someone else in the room to mock it with, and only the idea of sharing my meal doesn't quite sound right: I'll either make enough for all of us or for myself, but if we're in a restaurant, sure, I'll take a taste of yours and vice-versa.
That's not what they mean, of course. And I Just Shared is just one of a bunch of similar things that were being, um, shared at SXSWi this year. As it turns out, so is Glomper, which I made fun of in the last post (and later posted a picture of someone with their mascot). And then there's what I'm told was the big buzz, Highlight, "a fun, simple way to learn more about the people around you." This one really creeps me out. By "around you," they mean within 300 meters. "If someone standing near you also has Highlight, their profile will show up on your phone. You can see their name, photos of them, mutual friends, and anything else they have chosen to share. When you meet someone, Highlight helps you see what you have in common with them," their website says. "As you go about your day, Highlight runs quietly in the background, surfacing information about the people around you. If your friends are nearby, it will notify you. If someone interesting crosses your path, it will tell you more about them."
How about this, which is showing up as the first comment on the iTunes store as I type this: "Highlight is a privacy nightmare. It grabs all of your Facebook information (friends and profile information) and it constantly tracks where you are...Think about it: They are keeping track of you and your friends and your location at all times. To use this application, you must trust them.
Let's go back to Glomper, then. Here, they're looking for you to share events. If you've clicked the link, you know that you get a popup asking your permission for Glomper to use your location. They already know my location, apparently: a map has shown up of the surrounding countryside of where I'm typing this, along with a list including the elementary school down the road and a nearby golf course. I'm not sure what they're after, but I don't trust them, and as soon as I'm finished writing this, I'm going to delete any cookies I may have laid on their site. And no, I don't not trust them only because they're Russians. If I'm having a party tonight and I've asked some friends of mine who are also on Facebook to come, I could use Glomper to publicize that. I think I'll pass.
Allow this geezer a bit of nostalgia here, okay? Back before everyone had a screen in their pocket to stare at, even before we had screens on our desktops to stare at, we shared. We had parties and relied on human contact to let us know where they were -- even the ones we weren't invited to. As for who nearby shared our interests, we sometimes walked up to perfect strangers and started talking to them -- even without access to their complete Facebook profile and list of friends, but maybe riffing off the way they were dressed or a book or a record they had with them, or some other object or observation with which to make a comment. And -- believe it or not -- sometimes that was a good way to meet girls!
Okay, sarcasm, sure. Right now, I'm in a semi-rural location staying with an old friend who reports that her college-age daughter and some of her friends and a lot of the other kids that age around here play a lot of music, mostly acoustic music, on street corners, in parks and at parties. Now, I've played music. Not very well, but I've done it. I know something as a result: that, too, is sharing. It's something which brings people, often complete strangers, together. And here's a very odd thing about it: it's really very difficult to say what's shared in the process -- I mean, exactly what the you're all sharing is, what it's called. But it's there, because you feel it during and afterwards, and it feels good. If you're halfway decent, anyone listening to you has felt it, too. It's pretty hard to sell it to a third party, or, in fact, to monetize it at all. Whereas if you like a bar, a magazine, an event, a kind of sneakers, or some band and "share" it with one or more of these apps, that information can potentially become as viral as a Facebook kitten video, landing who knows where, seen by who knows who. Do kids today want everyone to know everything about them all the time? It's hard to imagine that they do, but I guess I could be wrong.
Now, don't get me wrong: I use Facebook a lot, enthusiastically and often. I'm going to post a link to this post as soon as I can after it goes up, and Facebook, while I was writing this, told me that Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top just shared the link to that photo of my friend Luann and the blue Glomper beast, and I think that's cool. But there's a lot of stuff we don't know about each other, you and me, dear reader, and that's the way it's going to be for some of you. With others, I'm willing to share a little bit. Or a lot. But I decide, not a piece of software in my phone.