Google’s John Hanke and Field Trip app think social

My favorite thing about my colleague Brandon Bailey’s Q&A with Google guru John Hanke is the talk about managing the tension between paying attention to our mobile gadgets and paying attention to our surroundings.

The Field Trip app that Hanke and his crew (named Niantic after a ship that became a brothel — really) have built sounds cool enough. It figures out where in the world you are and offers info on points of interest you’re walking by. Yes, presumably it will point you toward stuff you can buy, but the cool part is that it will give you a little history in process.

How many times have you walked past a building and wondered, “What the heck did that used to be?” Or even stopped to read an historic plaque and been left wondering what the whole story was? Field Trip to the rescue.

And the way Google is working on the project reminds me of a talk I had last week with former Apple vice president Jay Elliot, who has a new book out “Leading Apple with Steve Jobs: Management Lessons from a Controversial Genius.”

Part of our discussion didn’t make it into my column, particularly the part in which Elliot told me that one key to the late Apple co-founder’s success was his practice of breaking off small teams to become something of their own startups. Remember the pirate flag flying over the Mac group’s HQ?

Eliott says it was all part of Jobs’ philosophy that innovation flourishes when you work as the pirates rather than as the navy.

But what I really like about Hanke’s approach at Google is the part he explained like this:

“I’m really interested in enhancing people’s experience when they’re not in front of their desk, but when they’re out in the world. Even though it’s possible to do a lot of things with your phone today, often that has the effect of pulling you into a bubble, instead of enhancing your experience.”

Don’t we all have a friend or spouse who often is having Words with Friends when we wish they were having words with us? (It’s not just me, is it?) It’s what MIT researcher calls being “alone together,” which is part of the title of her book on the same subject. Turkle laid out some of her thoughts in a column I wrote here.

Anyway, I don’t like to be a scold (in no small part because my hands are not entirely clean here), but I think there is potential danger in a world where we are so buy managing friends on our iPhones that we ignore friends who are standing right in front of us.

Surely, the burden is on each of us to resist digital temptation and stay fully engaged, but an app like Field Trip may go a short distance to showing us the way — and telling us about it in the process.




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