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WOSTER: Beware of the ambient social networking apps

Terry Woster

Today, in my ongoing mission to bring to the less technologically adept segment of society (or folks like me) warnings about the latest changes in social media, I bring you a thing called ambient social networking.

Actually, to give credit where it is due, Time magazine brings news of this phenomenon. I merely read the article so I could offer my fellow tech-challenged citizens my thoughts on the potential impact of this latest assault on common sense in the name of doing something cool with high-tech gadgets.

The deal is, according to Time, that this thing called ambient social networking is the latest rage -- or will be, once more people become aware that it's the one thing they aren't already doing with their tech gadgets. One version, or "app," as the with-it crowd calls these things, invades your personal space.

What it seems to do is dig through your Facebook account to, the article says, "See whom you know and what topics you like." Using that information and your smart phone's Global Positioning System, this app thing alerts you when someone who likes the stuff you like or knows the people you know is in the general vicinity of you.

The article said the app thing will also alert you "When a good-looking patron who loves the same bands you do sits down at the other end of the bar."

Well, let's take the low-hanging fruit first, shall we? Say you're sitting at the end of the bar and a "good-looking patron" walks in and sits down at the other end of the bar. If you need your phone to alert you to that fact, perhaps it's time to ask the bartender to pour out that drink you just ordered and call a taxi.

And if you do notice that "good-looking patron," do you need your phone to tell you the patron is a big fan of one band or another? Takes some of the fun out of the evening, doesn't it, if you can't suck up your nerves, sidle down to the far end of the bar and say smoothly, "So, what do you think of Paul Revere and the Raiders, kiddo?"

Beyond that issue, what's up with the whole notion of letting some technological thief in the night wander through your Facebook account any time it pleases?

Maybe I grew up in way too simple a time, but I always thought the party line telephone was a huge invasion of privacy. Now we've reached a point at which we throw open the doors to the safe and say, "Have at it, you ambient social network creature."

When I was a kid, my dad kept a hugely mysterious, heavy, deep-gray strong box way back in the closet in the bedroom I shared with my brother. Where he kept the key, I'll never know, but when he dragged that box out into the light and opened it, the rest of the family had to stay at least one floor away.

I don't see him handing the key to that strong box to any old ambient social network that happened by.

When he died, the strong box passed to my mother, I guess, because when she moved from the house in Chamberlain, there it was. It's out in my garage now. It's been there for years. I don't use it, but it's a great memory. I guess I have that kind of relationship with Facebook, too, as far as any of my own personal stuff getting out there for the general audience.

These ambient social networking apps are still in the testing stage, apparently. I say that because the Time article says one problem with one of those apps is getting its algorithm (no idea what that is, but it sounds serious) to "highlight people you actually want to meet." Hmmm.

I don't know much about social media and apps, but I'm pretty sure I don't need something that connects me with people I actually don't want to meet. Now, if it could point me in the direction of a bunch of Paul Revere fanatics, then I'm all in.