Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mapping My Heart

This is a compensated review from BlogHer and AT&T FamilyMap

Over the next week, Em will turn 12, and start middle school. She's excited. Beyond excited, really. Jumping out of her skin excited, to be honest. Unable to think or talk about anything else.

Whereas, me? I'm...freaking out. Beyond freaking out, really. Jumping out of my skin freaking out, to be honest.

But I'm trying to keep my head about me. Trying. I mean, Em's a really good kid. She sometimes does dumb things, but she's a good kid. And it's time to let her spread her wings a little, experience some independence.

As long as I can be right there watching every move she makes.

I kid! I kid! And yet...

Let's just say that AT&T's FamilyMap couldn't have come along at a better time for me.

Here's the basic premise: AT&T believes that knowledge is not just power, it's peace of mind. And so they've created the FamilyMap as a way to give parents that knowledge, power, and peace.

More specifically, if you're an AT&T mobile customer (like me) who has a family plan (like me), the FamilyMap allows you to track the location of all the other phones in your plan, including your own, simply by visiting the FamilyMap website, either on your computer or on your mobile phone's web browser.

But it gets even better. Because the FamilyMap allows you to actually schedule any number of check-ins, and then it does those check-ins automatically. So, say your kid is supposed to be home from school by 3:30 every afternoon. You set up the scheduler to check at that time, and to determine if the phone (and hence the kid) is at your pre-assigned home location. If all is well, the FamilyMap makes a note in your 7-day history (which is one of the tabs on your FamilyMap home page), and you and your kid can both get on with your lives. But if the phone and the kid aren't where they're supposed to be, the FamilyMap notifies you in whatever way you requested (text or email), so you can start planning exactly how many days she'll be grounded for.

I have to tell you: the whole idea of being able to keep tabs without even having to think about it? Awesome.

The downsides? The AT&T FamilyMap is most accurate--in terms of how close you can pinpoint a phone's location--in places where cell service is best. Where I live, in a foothill community? Cell service is never best. (Darn you, large rocky mountains that surround us on all sides. Sure, you're beautiful, but you mess with my phone service!) So, while I could pinpoint Em to within a few dozen yards when she was at a friend's house in the San Fernando Valley, the plus-minus up here, where we live? A mile and a half. Since our house and the middle school are within a mile and a half of each other, it seems like it would be hard to know for sure where she is. Plus, since the schools require the kids to keep their cell phones turned off at all times--and the FamilyMap obviously needs the phone to be on in order to pick up its signal--I won't be able to make sure she gets to school in the mornings.

Which isn't a big deal, actually, since I'll be dropping her off on my way to work. Poor thing. This means she'll never be able to do what I did in high school, and just decide to stay on the (New York City Transit) bus past the school stop until it reached the mall. OK, I only did it once...or twice...but it was totally fun. (Hi, Mom! Nothing to see here! Plus, I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations on that little misdemeanor ran out about 30 years ago.) But I digress...

AT&T's focus for the FamilyMap is, for obvious reasons, your ability to know where your kids are. But in just the short time I've been using it, I've found use for it in tracking adults, too. For instance, say your husband has the navigational skills of a lobotomized rock, and the classic y-chromosomal refusal to ask for directions. Hypothetically, I mean, of course. (Hi, sweetie! Of course I'm not talking about you! I'm talking about my hypothetical husband, Daroy!)

If this is the case, no problem! After all, the FamilyMap is an actual map. It doesn't just show you the isolated spot where your family member is...It shows you the entire area around that spot, allowing you to zoom in and out as needed so that you can read street names, and tell your beloved that the problem is he needed to turn left, not right, at Azusa, you big stupidhead.

And how would you tell him? Once you've located your geographically challenged loved one, you can send them a text message using the "send message" link in the location bubble. That way, you can give them directions ("LEFT, I said!"), ask them a question ("Why won't you listen to me and turn left?"), or just let them know you're lurking in the bushes keeping an eye on them.

Which is exactly what I did to poor Baroy, when he took the kids to the beach last Friday.

"You're in Venice!" I texted him after calling up his location on my work computer. (Let me say that again: on my work computer. As in, he was walking along sandy beaches with the kids, frolicking in the waves, and eating pizza, while I was in an overly air-conditioned office writing about bacterial chemoreceptors. Why, yes, I was bitter. OK, OK. Am bitter.) "Somewhere near Venice Blvd. and Pacific Ave."

A half hour later: "Now you're walking up toward Santa Monica! Going to get the bus back?"

And after another 15 minutes had passed: "On the Santa Monica pier, I see..."

To which Baroy finally replied, with a single-word text: "STALKER!!!"

That alone? Makes it worth the money.

To learn more, and sign up for a free, 30-day trial, check out the FamilyMap site.

So, now that I've told you about the good stuff, here's the even better stuff:

You can win a $100 Visa gift card, courtesy of AT&T FamilyMap, by leaving a comment on this entry any time between now and September 20, 2009, and answering the following question:

How does knowledge give you peace of mind?

If you'd prefer, you can also just leave a link to a post on your own blog in the comments below. In either case, make sure the email address you leave is a valid, correct one.

The Rules:
  • No duplicate comments.
  • may receive an additional entry by linking on twitter and leaving a link in the comments.
  • may receive an additional entry by blogging about this contest and leaving a link in the comments.
  • This giveaway is open to US residents, aged 18 and older.
  • Winners will be selected via random draw, and will notified by email.
  • You have 48 hours to get back to me; after that, I'll select a new winner.
And, as if that wasn't enough, you can also up your chances of winning by checking out how the rest of the BlogHer Reviewers explored AT&T FamilyMap, and leaving comments on their entries, too!

On your mark, get set...comment!