Celia Rivenbark

From the Belle Tower | Companion app doesn’t make us safer, just stupider

A screenshot of the Companion app created by University of Michigan students.
A screenshot of the Companion app created by University of Michigan students.

You will never walk alone. No, seriously, never. As long as you have the new “Companion” app on your cellphone, every step you take, every move you make, every bond you break, I’ll be watching you. No, wait. That’s Sting. I meant to say a designated friend will be watching you.

Companion, which is free for iPhones and androids, was invented by five University of Michigan students who wanted to feel safer during those long walks back to the dorm late at night.

Using GPS technology, a real-life companion can follow your progress on his phone screen even if he doesn’t have the app on his phone. If your dot isn’t moving he can ask “Are you OK?” If there’s no response in 15 seconds, an alert is sent. There’s even an “I feel nervous” button that you can use to alert the police to your location.

Helicopter parents everywhere are ecstatic with this new app but I worry that it will lead to a false sense of security. Will your child boldly walk into a rough neighborhood and explain to the potential mugger: “See this red dot on this green line? That’s me. And I am going to hit the ‘I feel nervous’ icon and, wait, GIMME BACK MY PHONE!”

Police will be getting a lot more calls and, yes, if it saves one person from peril, that’s reason enough to install the app. But what if the app leads to app-athy? After all, it’s possible the phone just fell in the toilet and now not only have the police been alerted but also you will have to go to the phone store tomorrow, where an entirely different kind of crime will occur. (“Wait! How much???”)

We have become a very nervous nation indeed. And not without reason. But would it be so crazy to just use common sense and go in a group to the library, frat party, monkey bars?

We’re so into our phones that we barely look up while walking. The “I feel nervous” icon won’t help you if you’ve strolled into oncoming traffic while tweeting lyrics to a Mumford and Sons song like it’s something you actually wrote. So now you’re injured AND you’re a plagiarist.

This app is just getting started, we’re told. With the “silver tsunami” of baby boomers heading into old age, some people think Companion is going to be a great way to monitor mom and pops from long distance. I like to call these people “idiots.”

I’m a baby boomer and I can’t even get my TV to get off the blank screen that only says “Component 1” on it. I will have the cops at my house 24/7 if someone tries to monitor my route.

Sometimes it just makes more sense to stroll in packs, talk to one another and call your mama instead of watching her blue dot mosey on the green line from bingo to water aerobics.

Celia Rivenbark is the New York Times best-selling author of “Rude B****** Make Me Tired.” Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

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