How social networks can destroy your social life

This morning’s Observer column.

Foursquare, in case you haven’t come across it, is possibly the daftest application of GPS technology yet devised. It’s a mobile application that allows registered users to “check in” at a particular location. Checkers-in are rewarded with “points” and sometimes “badges”. (I am not making this up.) Check-in requires active user selection and points are awarded at check-in. Subscribers can also opt to have their checking-in achievements automatically posted to Twitter or Facebook.

But wait, there’s more! If you’ve checked in to a location on more occasions than anyone else over the past 60 days, then you are crowned “mayor” of that location. But of course some other rotter can depose you by checking in even more frantically and no doubt even as I write there are epic tussles going on for the mayorship of, say, Tooting Bec underground station, or the third litter bin on the left at the exit from Waterloo station.

If this business of points, badges and mayorships reminds you of the collection games that five-year-olds play with picture cards, Pok√©mon accessories and other gewgaws, then you’re right on the money…