Seeing The Light (The Optimism Light)

I will admit it. Sometimes I hope the traffic pattern results in me being stopped at the intersection of Capital Circle Northeast and Centerville Road here in Tallahassee so I can check in on FourSquare at “The Punishment Light.” (And, living up to its title, I usually have time to check in,  peek at my Facebook, send a tweet, and whip up a smoothie.)

Likewise, I am a frequent visitor (and checker-inner) at “The Longest Light in Tally” (the intersection of Capital Circle and Apalachee Parkway). I view this checkin as a little “we’re all in this together” nod of commiseration to my fellow Tallahassee Drivers who endure plenty of time at this intersection.

Because of my route to work, the Capital Circle intersection I can guarantee being at daily is the intersection of Capital Circle and Mahan Drive. The light is not quite as long as the two mentioned above, but it’s a major intersection that typically found me fretting about how late I was to work, how I was going to get everything done that I had committed to, how I was going to overcome the problems big and small in my life. It was yet another place to give in to worry and anxiety.

Still Shot from Traffic Camera Number 013

Which is why, on my birthday on November 28, I pulled over at a business at that intersection and created my own checkin for the intersection of Capital Circle and Mahan Drive: The Optimism Light. It is an alternative to the “Capital Circle NE and Mahan Dr.” checkin. It was a gift to myself. And it fascinates me how having one small symbolic homage to the positive makes a difference. If I am stopped at a red light there, I checkin and take a deep breath. And then I:

  • Say a brief prayer of gratitude for the indisputably precious gift of another day
  • Send a positive intention for a friend or someone I know of who is ill or troubled
  • Give the person in front of me, beside me, or behind me the vibe that “it’s okay – we’ll all get where we’re going” instead of “what’s taking you so long to MOVE?!”
  • Hope that hope will prevail in the face of the world’s darknesses

And, you know, I would be lying if I wrote, “and if no one else ever checked in here, that would be fine – I created this for myself.” Honestly, I want others to check in there (and I appreciate those of you who have). It’s why I tweet the checkin every time and post it to Facebook. Around 50,000 cars pass through this intersection every day. You could argue that taking two seconds to give your fellow driver a break or say a quick prayer/intention (whatever your faith tradition) for someone else is not even a drop in the bucket. But, in my opinion, 50,000+ drops could create some waves of tranquility.

Image source: “solrac_gi_2nd”

And in a world where it’s all too easy to make waves with sarcasm and vitriol, waves of optimism surely couldn’t hurt any of us.

Why I Check In

When I first started seeing people’s Four Square check ins pop up on Facebook and Twitter, my reaction was fairly negative. Why should I care that someone was home? Eating at Applebee’s? At a rest stop on I-10?

The first time I really felt like Four Square may have a place in my social media life was when I was at a TweetUp benefiting Japan and one of my fellow diners checked in on Four Square – I realized that it was possible to see who else was present at the restaurant (who was also a Four Square user).  

Shortly after that, I read a post by Jason Mollica that clarified for me the fact that Four Square check-ins do not always have to be synced to Facebook and/or Twitter. I realized that I could get the benefits (knowing who else was at the same venue as well as any mutual connections) without broadcasting my whereabouts to the larger circle of social media.

[I should note that one thing that held me back from joining Four Square was one individual – someone I did not know as well at the time as I do now but who, more than once, stated on Facebook, “join Four Square and I will unfriend you.” This was someone in whose circle I wanted to remain – I wasn’t sure if the individual was serious but I didn’t want to find out!]

Fast forward to me taking the plunge. I was at the Georgia World Congress Center, at Tenley’s dance competition, so my initial checkin was rewarded with the knowledge that there were others at the same venue as me.

I “thought” I had configured my FourSquare membership to do it “relatively secretly,” meaning my check-ins wouldn’t show up on Facebook. But I did have the setting configured so that my mayorships and badges showed up. As a result, almost immediately upon checking in a few places I was outed as having been awarded the “Crunked” badge – for “4+ Stops in One Night.” I think the stops were the dance studio, the grocery store, and two other mom-driving-around-kids stops!

The Four Square “Crunked” Badge

[Side note #2 – it didn’t take long to figure out that my friend who I thought was still a Four Square hater was already on Four Square!! It started out for business reasons but I think that individual, like me, discovered a like of Four Square that went beyond business.]

Now, why I check in and some thoughts about it.

Employees, Customers, Supporters – I read one article that recommended that an organization’s employees not be allowed to check in and be the Four Square “mayor.” I don’t feel that way. I think that is because I have a pretty “open flow” opinion of relationships between business and personal life. My job is as much of my personal life as my personal life is part of my job (an outlook that is not working all that well right now but that’s a topic for some other time). If an employee feels enough ownership in their organization to want to trumpet that fact, they should be able to. However, this does not always put the employer in the best of lights. When I saw that a fellow Four Square user was an employee at the grocery store I frequent almost every single day, and that the person was “mayor,” I thought that was all pretty cool. Until I saw these tweets on the individual’s twitter feed:

“Some b***h came in right at nine to get some turkey cut up on the saw tonight. So now I have overtime minutes I have to take off.”


“I feel like crap. I threw up twice at work tonight.”

Having read that, I am always checking nametags at the deli at that store now. AND for several days on end, I would pull into the parking lot to check in so that I could become mayor of the store and oust the disgruntled person. It just didn’t do the store justice to have a griping, barfing, employee of a mayor. It’s that much of a pleasure shopping there. I am a loyal customer. And a little wiser for having put social media two and two together.

Connecting Social Dots – I have never figured out how to explain this succinctly yet clearly to people I don’t know well yet, but I am faceblind (prosopagnosic), meaning my ability to discern faces is impaired. Four Square, like Facebook, gives me photographic evidence as well as cues about people that help me tune in more quickly. I was at Chez Pierre one evening and someone I had never met in person was there, in the same dress she was wearing in her Four Square picture, so I was able to facilitate an introduction a lot more easily.

The potential to save money – One of the draws of Four Square is that users can get discounts at certain businesses for checking in. Honestly, I am so frugal that this was probably one of the top reasons I capitulated and signed up. But I don’t think I have saved a cent yet!

The “power” of being mayor – It’s virtual, it’s toothless, it’s just fun. But through Four Square, I can have the very minor head trip of being “mayor.” Here are my current mayorships.

Healthy Kids
The Bus Stop
Performing Arts Center of Tallahassee
Journeys in Yoga
Richview Park
Envision Credit Union
Holy Comforter Church
State Employees Credit Union
Stewardship Dry Cleaners
FSU Film School
Summit East
Nancys Alterations
Leon County Community Room
Skate World

But then there’s the questionable side:

I am spewing data about my habits – Does it matter that I do that? Probably not. If I don’t want to check in, I don’t. But who stands to benefit from knowing about my frequent Publix, Walgreens, and Maxwell’s BP visits? 

I am spewing data about my whereabouts – again – it probably doesn’t matter because my life is pretty much an open book, but when is too much information too much? AND what am I teaching my 12 year old, who only has one Four Square friend (me) by having “fun” with Four Square and encouraging him to share information about himself?

Trust Issues – Sometimes I will be sitting in my parking lot at work or in my driveway at home and Four Square will refuse to give me any points for my check in because “your phone thinks you are a little far from where you say you are” (paraphrasing here). WHAT? I know where I am, thank you very much. Trust me! Conversely, Four Square has caused my son to doubt my veracity. My Droid Eris is very slow to check in, so I will check in to a location a few hundred yards in advance. He once told another parent at camp, “my mom is here so she can talk to you about our sleepover – Four Square says she’s here.” I wasn’t. Oops.

I am helping someone make money (but I don’t really know who) – I am by no means a Four Square expert, but my innocence was quickly erased when I learned that a “custom badge” to support a cause doesn’t come cheap (think quite a few zeros). Hmmm….. (This article delves a bit into Four Square’s revenue generation.)

My ultimate thought is that Four Square is another fun tool to use to connect. It helps me publicize businesses and causes I love. It helps me keep track of my habits (the “Fried Check In badge Level Two”? Really? but the “This is your 23rd consecutive week at a gym – your biceps say ouch your heart says yes” is reassuring).

For me, it goes back to the same reason I jump at opportunities to Tweet Up (meet fellow Twitter users in person) and extend social media conversations beyond the limits of Facebook statuses and 140 character tweets – I like writing and in many ways that helps me establish a relationship in a deeper way than a face to face does. But nothing, seriously, nothing replaces the camaraderie of interacting with another person with whom I have something in common.

Four Square is just another way of allowing me to “check in” with humankind.

Maybe there needs to be a “looked ’em in the eyes” badge!