Theerapon Ngerntueak wants to share their location with you on Google Latitude. You too can see where your friends are and share your location using Latitude from your phone, computer, or both.”
This email arrived last Monday.I can’t remember what I was doing at the time — reading a Buddhist dhamma pamphlet, perhaps, or downing my second Screwdriver of the day.
One of the two. Whatever I was doing, the email stopped me in my tracks.
I do know Theerapon and yes, there is only one of him so ignore Google’s reference to “their” in the first sentence.
He is a friend who lives in far northern Chiang Rai. Dong, as he is nicknamed, enjoys photography and raising a family — a fatal combination. He has emailed me so many pics I could pick out his two-year-old son in a police line-up from 100m away.
Our paths cross once or twice a year when I go to Chiang Rai or when he’s in Bangkok for an Education Ministry meeting.
So while I don’t communicate with him on a daily basis (what would his wife think?), I generally know where Dong is. Chiang Rai. That’s probably all I need to know.
With a simple click of a Google button last Monday, that could have all changed.
There’s this new Google service called Latitude. Thanks to the combination of Google Maps, GPS and your overpriced mobile phone you can now let the world know your exact location. Every minute. Every second.
In other words, if tonight I awake at 3am from a nightmare where I was chased by a horde of deranged hunchbacked Robinson salespeople, I can flick on my PC and know exactly where Dong is.
What has happened to the human race? Is this where we are heading? And more importantly, are my days of being in places I shouldn’t numbered?
I am not a technophobe. I like new gadgets and applications just like anybody else.
I even signed up to Google+ where you can make “circles” of friends based on all sorts of things. That was fun for a week, until I made way too many circles (“Good For a Drink”, “Dubious”, “Austcham Groupies”, “B-Now Alcoholics” — believe me, a lot of those circles intersected) and soon lost track.
I’ve been considering drawing the line on all this social network business for a while now. Last Monday when I was introduced to Latitude, I realised it wasn’t a line I needed to draw. It was a big, thick, 10m-wide painted strip.
Had I clicked on that ACCEPT button, I would now know at this very instant where Dong is — and he, me. I am writing this column at 5pm; perhaps he is down at his favourite khao soi restaurant ordering food for his family. Or maybe he’s running laps at his gym, or practising traditional northern Thai dance.
This is information of grave importance to Dong’s lovely wife and child, but to me? What am I going to do with it?
And is it just me, but knowing where Dong is every minute of the day isn’t that just a little creepy? Next I’ll be cutting out words from headlines and gluing them together in poison pen letters to his wife.
How, when and where did this obsession with useless knowledge all begin? I am guessing it was 10 or 15 years ago when Hi5 took over Thailand. Everybody had to have their Hi5 page showing their favourite songs and stuff.
Facebook shoved that aside and suddenly we were all in a race to see who could amass the most friends. I did it too. And I know why.
Once back in high school I was the last one picked to be on a side for a game of football. The psychological damage resonated through the decades. I wasn’t the worst footballer in the group; it’s just that nobody wanted me.
This explains why, three months after signing up to Facebook, I reached my limit of 5,000 friends. I am the pin-up boy for Facebook. While I publicly have 5,000 friends, in the real world I have only six — and two of those aren’t even talking to me at the moment.
That didn’t satiate us. Twitter came along, in which you document your every thought and movement in under 140 characters in real time.
Ah, Twitter. We must bid farewell to Dong and meet another Thai man by the name of Nui. He used to be on my staff, and if I am the pin-up boy for Boys Who Never Got Picked For Football, then Nui is the poster boy for Too Much Twitter Information.
Nui is an accomplished TV producer. He is intelligent, witty and talented, recently picking up an award for his long-running TV show called Brainchild.
Despite this, Nui has an uncontrollable urge to tweet his entire life.
“I’m at Gloria Jean’s in the lobby of Channel 3,” he writes every other morning. On the other mornings: “Just arriving at Channel 3.”
Well yes! Of course you are. That’s where you work! Imagine if you were just arriving at Channel 9 — what a commotion that might spark.
Nui’s tweets are mundanely fascinating.
“Checking in at Suvarnabhumi. Crowds of people.”
“It’s raining heavily and the roads are slippery.”
“I’m getting ready to go to Ubon. Packing now.”
And on and on. At 22,000 tweets and counting, I’m glad Nui has household help to pack his bags because he sure as hell doesn’t have the time or hands to do it himself.
Is Nui like the tree that falls in the forest? I mean, if you tweet that you are packing your bag for Ubon and nobody is following you, are you really packing your bag?
That question is irrelevant to Nui, who at last count has 2,000 followers. An audience of 2,000 while packing your underpants! The lunatics are taking over the world asylum!
I thought of Nui, and where we are all heading with this social network business, and in the end I chose to click DECLINE on Google Latitude last Monday.
Google didn’t go down without a fight. “If you don’t accept the terms, your friends won’t know where you are. Please go back.”
No, Google, I won’t go back. I know this is hard to understand, but I don’t want people to know where I am all the time.
I mean, what if I signed up to Google Latitude then decided to make a midnight trip to, say, Katoeys Kalore on Patpong Soi 6? Dong would be mortified. Nui would probably fold his arms and mutter “Just as I suspected,” before going back to tweeting about his underpants.
Dong and Nui are two friends from the real world I am blessed to know. I appreciate their humanity and goodness without having to know exactly where they are or what they are folding.
So I am destined to have a future of slowly retreating into myself.
As the whole world signs up to Google Latitude, I’ll just quietly slink off to the darkest corner of my bedroom and live out my hermit existence having closed my Facebook and Hi5 accounts, and be content with my six friends.
I’ll be that strange farang whom nobody quite knows what he is doing, or saying, or thinking. I’ll keep Twitter though. There’s something comforting about knowing Nui made it to work for another morning.
About the author
- Writer: Andrew Biggs
- Position: Writer