Facebook stalking is going to a new level as the social network rolls out its new feature, “Nearby Friends.” Nearby Friends does exactly what you’d expect it to: It allows you to track your Facebook friends’ locations and view where they are on a map. Facebook says this feature will help facilitate spontaneous real-life meet ups and take socializing offline once again in the process. Which is cool — we’re all about hanging out IRL, something many of us don’t do enough of these days. And because the app is opt-in — meaning you have to explicitly specify who can track you, and you can also shut it off whenever you want — any safety concerns aren’t as potent as they could be.
But Nearby Friends opens up a whole new set of questions about intimacy and technology. Who do you deem worthy enough to keep geographic tabs on you in an age when Facebook’s definition of “friendship” has been watered down to include everyone from your best friend to your 7th grade camp counselor to your great aunt twice-removed? This being a blog about dating and all, we’re particularly interested in what something as intimate as Nearby Friends signifies when it comes to the people you date. At what point, if ever, does it become appropriate to share your location 24/7 with a significant other?
Sharing passwords with a partner has become a hallmark of modern intimacy. My boyfriend and I both know the passwords to each other’s smartphone and computer lock screens. I make liberal use of his Netflix account to feed my Gossip Girl binge-watching habit. The Touch ID on my iPhone 5S recognizes his fingerprint as well as mine. Sharing passwords has been practical: Between us, we can use pretty much any device we have lying around to look up information, send an email, watch TV shows, etc. But it’s also been an exchange of major trust. In sharing our passwords, we’re essentially telling each other, “I’m trusting you to not creep around my stuff unnecessarily, but I also know that if you do, you won’t find anything bad.” People who have something to hide don’t tend to leave their phones lying around, especially if their partner knows their password.
But allowing your partner to actually see where you are at any given moment is next-level. Of course, there’s the obvious cheating scenario: You could turn Nearby Friends off if you wanted to go have an illicit midday tryst with your secretary and don’t want your wife to notice you’re at a Midtown Hilton instead of at the office. But if you were planning on cheating, you would likely never give your partner permission to track you in the first place. But even in healthy relationships that aren’t riddled with threats of infidelity, I’m not sure if Nearby Friends will do you any favors. I don’t need to know where my boyfriend (or a friend, for that matter) is at any given moment. If I want to know where he is, I can ask; if we want to hang out, we can communicate that to one another. Automatically, constantly tracking his location, on the other hand, would bring on a lot of unnecessary stress.
What’s more, something like Nearby Friends could easily make the prospect of leaving a failed relationship where it belongs: in the past. After my best friend recently went through a breakup, she told me she had anxiety over the fact that her ex still has her Netflix password. The idea of him using her account bothered her, but there was nothing she could really do about it. Going through the trouble of changing her password didn’t seem worth it. I got where she was coming from — technology has a way of preventing us from fully moving on from a relationship that leaves a digital paper trail in its wake, one that’s nearly impossible to erase.
Imagine logging onto Netflix and seeing a bunch of movies that your ex added to your Watch List. Not only would it really suck, it would also resurface residual feelings you may not have felt if you had altogether cut that person out of your life, digital or otherwise. Now imagine logging onto Facebook and seeing your ex as a dot floating across your screen, going about their day, which no longer includes you. Just as you don’t need to be reminded of your former flame when you sit down to stream Heathers for the 15th time and see that he recently watched Twin Peaks, you also don’t need to be reminded of all the places that made your relationship uniquely yours long after the relationship is over.
From passwords to likes to dislikes to brunch photos to the every move we make, it’s become all too easy to overshare in the digital age. But just because we have the option to share doesn’t necessarily mean we should. Even in serious relationships, some things can remain a mystery — like where I ate lunch today.