I was at lunch at Japango with some of my Foundry Group gang yesterday. When I went to my house in Alaska last July, I took a Mac with me but left my PC at home. Ross bet me $100 that before the month was out I’d beg him to fedex my PC to me. He lost and I decided to use my winnings to take whoever was around yesterday out to lunch.
We were enjoying our sushi and talking about random things, like what our family restaurant was when we were growing up (Godfathers, Pizza Hut, Burger King were three of them) and where the smokers hung out at high school. Someone was mid-sentence when the manager of Japango walked up and asked if I was Brad Feld. I said yes; he handed me the landline phone and said “someone is on the phone with an urgent call for you.”
Everyone paused while he handed me the phone.
Them: In a voice that was clearly masked “Is this Brad Feld”
Me: “Yes, who is this?”
Them: “I wrrrr whrrr your rrrr.”
Me: “I’m sorry – I can’t understand you. What are you saying.”
Them “Brad Feld – I know whrrr you rrr.”
This went on for a few more exchanges. I figured out what the person was trying to say but I wasn’t really processing it so I kept asking what they wanted. Eventually I hung up. I explained to my friends what had just happened and we had a short conversation about checking in on Foursquare and I speculated that was what had prompted the call.
A few minutes later the manager came by, picked up the phone, and asked if everything was alright. I quickly told him the story – he was pretty perplexed and apologized for bothering us. A few minutes later he came back and said the person was on the phone again asking for me. I once again picked up the phone, this time with a little anxiety, but by the time I got on the line the person was gone.
Now, I’ve had my share of Foursquare serendipity moments. I met Kevin Kinsella from Avalon for the first time when he stopped by in a restaurant in New York that I had checked in and was eating at (he was hosting a dinner for me the next week for the Do More Faster book tour in San Diego, but we’d never met in person.) In Boulder, Amy has asked me not to check in until after dinner when we eat together because she doesn’t want the periodic interruption. And I’ve had my share of emails saying something like “I see you are in town – can we get together?”
In general, I like the Foursquare serendipity a lot. I don’t check in at my houses because I don’t want to broadcast where I am overnight, although I will check into a hotel when I’m traveling just in case someone is around. And I’ve got Foursquare wired to Facebook so things show up in my feed. I recently wired up Tripit as well (and to LinkedIn) and that has resulted in some positive serendipity lately.
But yesterday’s call spooked me. I didn’t check in for the balance of the day. When I walked out of Japango, I was a little nervous about where I physically was for the first time I can remember while in Boulder. And I had a heightened awareness of my surroundings last night as I walked home.
I haven’t sorted this out yet, but as an early adopter – and a promiscuous one – of location-based checkin – I’m rethinking how I use this stuff and broadcast where I am. I expect this will be a much bigger issue in the future as humans become transmitters of their location (don’t believe me – just go read Daemon and Freedom.)
I guess it’s a good thing that this just happened and caused me to think harder about the implications. One of the reasons I immerse myself in this stuff is to understand the products and services, but also to understand the impact on humans and our society. While it’s easy to think intellectually about privacy, it’s a whole different deal when you have to process the ideas in the context of real issues that you encounter.