Proximity Networks: The New Rude?

Down the rabbit hole I went today and wound up learning more about “proximity networks” and the apps that make them, a search that turned up competitors Color and Lokast. After reading lots of vague promises on LoKast’s site that didn’t really tell me how the app worked, I retreated to the “University of Youtube” to see what Lokast’s text was unsuccessfully bragging about.

Let me stipulate to two firm opinions:

  • I hold the written word in highest esteem as a means of communication. (I read and re-read LoKast’s copy.)
  • I love new, interesting technology. (I do get that proximity networks sound  handy.)

But when someone tells me they have

a mobile app for digitally enabling [my] physical life — to better connect with the people there with [me], to better experience the physical settings, and to help [me] accomplish the stuff that [I] do there better….

I really have to ask, “Uh, what??” Why do I need an app to help me talk to the person in the room with me or to help me “experience” my backyard after work? Certainly, they mean more than disconnecting me from my real world only to connect me back to it digitally?

So they get some minus points for vague writing. Over to YouTube I went. But the phrase “real time interaction platform for physical settings” doesn’t do much either as far as clarity about what this thing does…so I need to listen a bit longer…oh wow, he continues that I can share things with people right next to me. Since I already do that, I am waiting for the new angle on face-to-face communication.

But that doesn’t come. What follows is a view of an auditorium with people seated apart from one another, but wanting to communicate and share videos and photos, presumably during the event they are in the auditorium for. I know that already with the technology we have, under the guise of taking notes, attendees frequently pull out their tablets and tap away, some of which is not note-taking but rather messaging friends about the boring speaker or where to meet for happy hour later.

Therefore, it is not the usefulness technology of proximity apps I wonder about, because there obviously are good practical uses for the technology: people from the same company separated in a huge auditorium at a conference, for instance, allegedly “sharing notes” as the video suggests (how can such tapped in digital natives forget notes they must have stored in the Cloud?).

But I do pause at the new standard and presumed acceptance of distracted attendance as the new norm for professional behavior in the face of a speaker. It never seems to occur to the folks at LoKast to pretend to apologize for real time social networking in that auditorium. With the benefit of this technology, speakers today should expect to look out at audiences who are offering only divided attention.

Can we develop an ethic of civility that brings us back to looking at someone when they are talking to us? Do we need to evolve manners for proximity social networks that allow us to have conversations about people right in front of their eyes in a much more “in their face”-“behind their backs” way than ever before? We do. Or proximity networks are the enablers of the new rude.

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