Like so many interesting things in life (or at least on Facebook), this began by chance.
Actually, to be honest, I’m not sure exactly when it began. Maybe it was when I first created a “check-in” entry for a place that did not yet have one. Maybe it was when I first noticed a check-in option that was clearly some random individual’s awkward misspelling of the place I was at the time. Maybe it was when I first realized that Facebook will suggest places to you when you “check in” that are a mile or two away from where you actually are — and so the relationship between your real location and your check-in location is pretty shaky to begin with. Whenever it actually began, “it” was the recognition that Facebook’s openness when it comes to its “Places” feature allows for an . . . unusual . . . degree of playfulness.
And so, over the past several weeks, I’ve been “checking in” on Facebook far more often than I ever did before . . . but I’ve almost always done so by inventing the name of a new place and adding it to the Facebook database. Sometimes these have been completely whimsical (Drunken Cheetah Cafe). Other times, they’ve been more abstract (that spot at the center of your back that you can’t quite scratch). Occasionally, they’ve had some small relationship to where I’ve actually been (Brown. Tall. Who Are We?). But I’ve rarely used the same invented check-in more than once, even when I’ve gone back to the same place repeatedly.
What this now means for some locales in my usual circuit is that when I — or, presumably, anyone else — open up the check-in dialogue, I will see the actual name of wherever I am . . . surrounded by a dozen different invented check-ins. And so the digital city around me isn’t just filled with the names of various businesses: it’s checkered with a host of more fanciful locations. The First National Bank of Soul and Funk. Uptown Ska Palace, Divorce Court, and Tobacco Emporium. Fort DeSoto Park (East Beach) (secret Minneapolis extension). And so on.
I have mild regrets — though only mild ones — that, by avoiding the “proper” check-in choices for my favorite coffee shops and bars, I’m blurring their online visibility somewhat. At the same time, however, I’d much rather help to create a map of the city that isn’t based entirely around commerce. And I’m happy to undermine, even if only in a very little way, the logics of surveillance and marketing that “checking in” are intended to perpetuate.
What I’m still waiting for, however, is to open up that check-in dialogue and find that someone else has started inventing fanciful place names of their own. I can’t be the only person who’s started doing this. And it wouldn’t take a lot more people doing so to slowly fill the digital versions of our world with the places that we really want to be. Consider this your invitation to join in on the fun. . .