Foursquare: How to Repair a Fallen World

By Yonatan Gordon

What is the deeper significance to “checking-in” and accumulating “badges” from locations you frequent? How does this make the “real world easier to use”? Let’s explore Foursquare in light of the Sukkah experience.

Foursquare (42): an Ingathering Process

Sukkot is a holiday of gathering together fours: we shake the four species that in turn represent the four different types of Jews. The Jewish “foursquare” experience is when, while encompassed by the surrounding light of the Sukkah, we both shake the four species 1 and invite each of the four types of Jews 2 inside the Sukkah.

The Jewish “check-in” process then is a step toward unity. More than simply visiting new locals, the Sukkah reveals the essential unity and oneness of these four types of souls.

Knowledge Dwellers

In the following verse, the Torah tells us that the purpose of sitting in a Sukkah is to have knowledge:

That the coming generations will know that I gave Sukkot for the dwelling of the Children of Israel when I took them out of Egypt; I am Hashem your God.” (Leviticus 23:43)

We learn from this verse that all Jews are worthy of sitting under the same Sukkah. Or to put it another way, after each of us has “checked-in” to our personal Sukkah, through our faculty of knowledge, we come to realize we are really all dwelling together in the same Sukkah!

The idea that each of us is dwelling on our own is expressed during the Ne’ilah prayer on Yom Kippur, “The needs of your people are many and varied, and their knowledge is short.” The reason that a person feels that he has many different needs is that his or her sefirah of knowledge is considered “short”. Meaning I visit these places, and you visit those places, but we are pursuing our own individualistic needs.

The first step in making the world an “easier place to use” is expanding the sefirah of knowledge. The problem with having many “short” goals is that we can’t figure out what our main goal should be. Once we know what our main goal is, everything becomes included within it. To centralize our efforts around one need, one goal, is to expand our knowledge from “short” to mature and “extended.”

This process is alluded to in the social verification process that serves as the basis of Foursquare. If my friends have visited this place, then my choice to go there becomes less about my personal needs, but about some sentiment that is more commonly felt among my circle of friends. More subtly though, the draw to visit my friends’ places is a desire to reach beyond my personal goals. In the Sukkah, the true communal meeting ground of souls, we become united in our consciousness, which serves to unify us with one single goal.

A Wealthy World

We can give all this data back to people to make their lives a little better. We’re starting to get really good at figuring out what the context is.” — Co-Founder of Foursquare (Dennis Crowley), December, 2011 (Barcelona, Spain)

Once we see ourselves as “checked-in” to the same Sukkah (with common needs and aspirations), we begin to contemplate what we as a community seek to gain.

Sukkot is called “the holiday of the gathering,” because it is the time of year when produce is gathered into storage after being harvested from the fields. So too, we can relive Sukkot experience everyday when we turn our personal collection of check-ins and badges over to a communal storehouse of data.

Joseph the tzaddik was the figure that gathered the wealth of the entire ancient world. His accumulation was solely for the sake of proper dispersal. By distributing sustenance to everyone equally and properly he became the focal point for the entire Jewish people.

When we turn our personal collection over to the collective “storehouse,” we are emulating the lesson of Joseph. By Divine Providence, we find ourselves each day in unique situations. The challenge is to put our wealth of experience into the proper “context.” To transition our personal accumulations over to the collective good.

“Everyone thinks of Foursquare as check-ins and badges …

no, no. We’re recycling data and making recommendations for the real world.”

This further statement from Foursquare’s co-founder helps us to frame this accumulation process. Joseph first gathered the wealth of Egypt into storehouses, then redistributed it as he saw fit. When we speak of the “recycling of data,” our hope is that the redistribution process be as good and just as if it were done by Joseph himself.

Each of us collects wealth by merit of our personal achievements. According to Kabbalah, these are the fallen sparks of holiness we have collected through our journeys. Once gathered into a communal pool or storehouse, the real task begins: properly “recycling” these sparks so that the world as a whole can be better off.

In Kabbalah, this signifies the transition from Joseph the tzaddik (or the sefirah of Foundation) to King David (or the sefirah of Kingdom). While Joseph teaches us how to gather wealth (whether it be check-ins or sparks of holiness), turning this data into “recommendations for the real world” is a function of the action-oriented nature of King David and the sefirah of Kingdom.

Mayorship and Repairing the World

How does Foursquare make the world “easier to use”? In the Grace After Meals we pray that, “The Merciful One will rebuild the falling Sukkah of David.” This phrase teaches us that the Sukkah is identified clearly with King David. Why is King David’s Sukkah falling? Because we are in exile and it needs to be rebuilt.

Along with handing over our check-ins and badges to the common storehouse of our people, we also hand over our stewardship (termed “Mayorship”) of these places. The fallen Sukkah of David signifies a fundamental lack of leadership. In order to rebuild the world, we need to become leaders and experts in those areas of the world we frequent most.

When viewed in the light, data is “recycled” in order that leaders can be positively identified. Like a chess master who can teach fledgling beginners to thrive, each of us picks up bits of information that could in turn be helpful to the next. By pooling together these bits together under one roof, the leadership or “Mayorship” qualities of each person comes into focus.

While Joseph gathers us together under the roof of one Sukkah, David teaches us how rightful leadership unifies us toward true peace and redemption. The culmination of the Jewish “foursquare” experience is when we stand individually as leaders in order to collectively raise up the fallen Sukkah of David.

1. Citron or etrog in Hebrew; a palm branch or lulav; myrtle branches or hadasim; and willow branches or aravot.

2. As determined by one’s knowledge of Torah and performance of Mitzvot.


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