Tucker Mastin, 15, texts his friends to find out where to meet.

Not too many years ago, if you couldn’t reach someone on the phone, you could assume the person simply wasn’t home.

You may have had the opportunity to leave a message on an answering machine, but beyond that, you’d have to wait for the person to return to talk to him or her.

Bit by bit, via the Internet and cell phones, people are growing more connected. Today, a person can call someone else from across a crowded gymnasium, or across the country with the touch of a button.

This technology is being enhanced by a new application offered by Google. “Latitude” would allow a cell-phone user to track friends, family – or anyone they know who is also participating in the program – to a specific point on a map, complete with a photo icon.

According to a recent report by the Associated Press, Google introduced the technology about a week ago, which expands on a tool introduced in 2007 to allow cell users to check their own location on a Google map. The software plots a user’s location by relying on cell towers, global positioning systems and Wi-Fi connections to deduce location, and can be used anywhere in the U.S., as well as in 26 other countries.

Tucker Mastin, 15, thinks the program would be a great social networking tool.

“I’m always trying to find my friends,” said Mastin. “If I had Latitude, it would save me a lot of walking and a lot of texts.”

Mastin also sees the safety benefits in the program.

“I suppose if I ever got into trouble, my mom would be able to find me,” he said.

Connie Parnell believes the new application could be beneficial to families.

“I think it would be very good for the elderly and their families,” said Parnell. “Not knowing health conditions and travel habits can be disturbing for family members, and this might help put their minds at ease.”

Parnell is the mother of young adults, and would have liked to have had the program when they were younger.

“It’s hard for a parent when your child is just learning to drive,” she said. “You worry. Not that I would feel the need to check up on them, but as a safety precaution.”

Parnell also understands where some may see it as invasive.

Renee Fite has children ranging from young adults to a 10-year-old, and has concerns about the technology.

“My first thought was, who else can track my kid?” she said. “Of course, if my child was stolen, it would be a godsend, but otherwise it’s too intrusive.”

Fite would be concerned about hackers gaining access to the technology, and thinks that overall, the program is a bad idea.

“All we need now are chips implanted into us, like our pets can be, and we’ll all be tracked like Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984. I guess I’m more a fan of fiction than technology,” she said.

Local father and school board member Luke Foster loves gadgets and computers, but is leery of the new program, saying the negatives outweigh the positives.

“Technologically speaking, [Latitude] is a very cool idea,” said Foster. “However, I don’t like the idea of electronic tracking for me or my kids. Even if this is a private enterprise, I am concerned about Big Brother’s use of it.”

Foster believes his kids might find the program fun, in a social-networking sense.

“My kids might think it’s cool, too, until they don’t want to be found,” he said.

Foster wouldn’t be interested in adding the program to his cell package. The only justification for this sort of mapping would be to know where his children are so he could help them if the need arises.

Google indicated it is doing its best to thwart these concerns by requiring each user to manually turn on the tracking software and making it easy to turn off or limit access to the service. Google is also reassuring consumers it will not retain records on individual movement, and that only the last location will be stored on company computers.

Tahlequah math teacher and father Chuck Pack looks at the technology from a “goose-gander” perspective.

“On first blush, I like the idea of being able to verify the whereabouts of my kids, but I wouldn’t want the invasion of my privacy,” he said. “It’s kind of like everybody believing in public transportation being great for others but not themselves.”

Samantha Laperche, a mother and IT specialist for the city, said she’ll implement the technology if it becomes available, as a way to keep her children safe, as well as her elderly family members.

“However, it’s hard enough to convince my mom, 78, to carry the cell phone around with her as it is,” she said. “Some people may say it is an invasion of privacy, but unless they were somewhere they weren’t supposed to be, where is the problem?”

Laperche is concerned employers may take advantage of the technology.

“Employers may have to think twice about all the issues this kind of ‘accountability’ could open up legally, but in the end, I think it is a great idea for children, who need all the protection we, as adults, can afford them in this twisted world.”

According to the AP report, it would be up each person to decide who – and when – their location can be monitored.

Latitude is not available on all phones, or for all phone services. Initially, the program will work on Blackberries, devices running Symbian software or Microsoft’s WIndows Mobile.

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