Bluetooth trackers and the art of losing

To live is to lose. We’ve all felt the anguish of losing something important – keys, wallet, phone, bags, money, opportunities, loved ones. Loss is part of the human condition. Some things we find again, some we don’t. It has been this way throughout history. But the development of Bluetooth technology in the 1990s forever changed the way we interacted with our possessions. This wireless standard—developed by a consortium of early tech companies—uses low-power short-range radio waves to connect our gear to personal-area networks known as piconets. It got its name rather serendipitously from the medieval Scandinavian king Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson. And just as his rule united Scandinavia, so Bluetooth networking has united our favorite tech devices together.

In recent years, Bluetooth technology has been harnessed to create a new type of device that could make losing our valuable things a relic of the past. It’s called a Bluetooth tracker. They come in all shapes and sizes and utilize a connection between your smartphone and sometimes other trackers to help you find your things. One of the more popular brands is made by Tile, Inc. The Tile line includes sturdy squares you can attach to keys, backpacks, toys, and even pets, wallet-sized slim trackers you can fit in your wallet, and smaller round stickers about the size of a quarter that you attach to remotes, sunglass cases, cameras, and more. The company’s website heralds a new loss-less age: “Our family of finders and handy Tile app mean that now everything can be found.” When an item is lost but close at hand, you can ring it from your smartphone. If it’s lost and further afield, you can request the Tiles of other users to anonymously ping your lost item until a location can be identified. Tile calls it the “world’s largest lost and found.” But amidst all this finding, do we risk losing parts of ourselves?

Trackers can bring us more peace of mind when it comes to the big stuff, but it’s easy to get carried away. I use it on my car keys and my wallet, but I resist the temptation to put one on my dog collar, my kids’ stuffed animals, or even my laptop bag. Depending too much on trackers may lull us into laziness when it comes to safeguarding our belongings, trading common sense thinking for the ease of a tech solution. Also, the ability to find everything we lose may not prepare us well for the reality of life’s inescapable losses. There are some things we cannot get back in life, and learning to move through the pain of loss can build resilience and character. In “One Art,” American poet Elizabeth Bishop has some jarring advice: Lose something every day:

Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

No one likes to lose something important, but it happens. If you want to harness Bluetooth to keep track of a few important items, go for it. Just don’t go overboard by relying on an army of gadgets and a sea of radio waves to keep track of your stuff. Perhaps the secret lies in not holding onto our possessions too tightly, as well as reducing the number of things in our lives that could hold sway over us.

This post was originally published in the November 2019 newsletter of The Technoskeptic magazine. The magazine and its related podcast offer intelligent technology criticism. Learn more at thetechnoskeptic.com.

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