Emergent Discourse: Foursquare, Fostering Virtual/ Real Colonization?

Hi all,

I read Simone S. Oliver’s article “Who Elected Me Mayor on Foursquare? I Did” from the New York Times the other day and totally had an amazing nerd moment that I just have to share… I’m not a huge techy so I didn’t really find out about Foursquare until literally two days ago, but learning about how this program works and its essential purpose- basically allowing ordinary people like you to become the “mayor” of different sites based on the number of times you “check-in” to an area via GPS on your smart phone- was incredibly mind-blowing.

First, I was shocked by how many people were actually interested in participating in Foursquare (even to the extent of obsession where it becomes increasingly competitive to maintain hold of your mayorship). Then, I thought “wow”- Foursquare essentially grants normal, everyday people the power to claim a title of distinction (i.e. mayor) and to “own” not only a virtual, but a tangible physical site (i.e. your office building, a coffee shop, and even an alleyway). Honestly, I thought it was crazy at first, but it does make sense- we are all craving to possess something (going back as far as the American Dream). Especially with today’s economy some people might not be able to feel the thrill of ownership with anything other than Foursquare. Technology has enabled us to become virtual colonizers… and not even just virtual because we are colonizing actual physical spaces that can be located via GPS. Is that cool or creepy? With the stigma associated with colonizers, do we really want to think of ourselves as such? (This seems to be where the title of “Mayor” kicks in. But then again, while connoting democratic election, it doesn’t actually mean that, as the article title suggests: “Who Elected Me Mayor of Foursquare? I Did.”

Yet, the nerd attack continues… Oliver also makes it a point to emphasize how Foursquare has drawn couples together and created unlikely unions out of competition for virtual/real spaces and after reading about these success stories, I’m beginning to think that I would like to meet someone through Foursquare as well (Unfortunately, I really can’t afford a smart phone on a grad student stipend). However, I do think that it is fascinating how technology is providing new ways for people to find romance, bridging the virtual space of the internet with the “real” world… and I’m sure that is why Foursquare and other online dating sites have become so popular, because honestly, aren’t all of us looking for love?

Well, I think that I should probably stop writing now before I start taking quotes from the article and this short post becomes a two-page article. But hopefully what I’ve written here will start some interesting discussions, especially for you, Sharon, because I know that your current research has to do with technology 😀

2 thoughts on “Emergent Discourse: Foursquare, Fostering Virtual/ Real Colonization?

  1. Wow thank you sooooo much Frannie. This article is really great and I’m sure I’ll find some way to incorporate it in some of my future research, or dissertation, who knows? Foursquare definitely calls to mind a lot of cyberpunk fiction such as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, where users can own property in the virtual “Metaverse” world. But even more so I think Foursquare challenges the “virtuality” of cyberspace because through the program converges both reality and “virtual” reality. Users become “mayors” of material locations that, as you said, can be found through a GPS. Whereas the cyberspace depicted in most science fictional works possess a terrain that is very different from the “real” world, Foursquare deliberately collapses that distinction. It really takes RPG to a whole new level, where you become a character that traverses the real world. The notion of “virtual” property ownership and power is also fascinating but I would also like to interrogate further where something that is simply fun becomes a matter of “compensation,” as technology is used to compensate for the actual socio-economic inequities of our reality and a deterrence for real political action (tribute to Wendy Chun because I’m still channeling her book Control and Freedom ^^)

    1. Sharon,

      You have some amazing ideas and I would definitely like to see them at work in a paper or dissertation. Your comments even sparked another “nerd moment” for me… You suggest that Foursquare is challenging the “‘virtuality’ of cyberspace,” breaking down the barriers between what we consider as the “virtual” and the “real,” which reminds me a lot about slipstream… I think it would be even possible to say that as inhabitants of a 21st century world relying on technologies such as Foursquare we are all living “slipstream” lives… What are your thoughts on this? Do you think that our definition of slipstream can extend beyond novels and films to describe our globalizing, technology-dependent world?

      Also, I totally agree that technology is obscuring “actual socio-economic inequalities” because even on the most basic level of possessing a smart phone to participate in Foursquare you have to be of a certain class level… I think that is where the whole negative “colonizer” side of the “game” comes into play- who actually has the means and leisure time to become a mayor? Despite my facetious comments above about not being able to afford a smart phone as a grad student, I know that even with one, I would not have the time to constantly check-in and actually vie for a mayorship… and, if not me, then what about the struggling working class woman holding two jobs? There are no opportunities available for her to experience even the thrill of a virtual/ real ownership of private property…

      Anyway, I hope this sparks some more neat ideas and helps you in your future research 🙂


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