Pokemon Go! …to Starbucks

I have to, I can’t resist. A feeling of restlessness overcomes me every time I hear the words. And I hear the words a lot lately.

It’s come up in almost every conversation I’ve had in the past month. It starts out like most exchanges between acquaintances:

“Hey, how you doin’?”

“Not too bad, yourself?”

“Ah, you know.”

“I hear ya.”

And after we’ve successfully evaded providing any answers to the standard, perfunctory questions, someone invariably says:

“This Pokemon Go thing is pretty crazy.”

Or:

“Have you heard about that Pokemon game?”

Of course I have, the rock I normally live under is being fumigated; and up here at ground level it’s impossible to avoid.

Then I get just a shade angry. I’ve heard all the arguments: it gets people outside, brings people together, it’s doing a net good. I just can’t agree. Inside or outside, doing nothing is still just doing nothing. And just because people are huddled together staring at their phones doesn’t mean it’s “brought them together”.  They’re just standing there alone, while in proximity to others.

Hey, I grew up during the first Pokemon craze. Although I can’t claim to be a reformed fanatic, I did play a few of the old cartridge games. The most poignant memory I have of that time spent on my Game Boy is just how quickly that time went. I still vividly remember looking up from my ersatz adventures in Kanto and realizing two hours had flown by. Even at ten years old that freaked me out a little bit. I haven’t really played video games since. I’d like to say from that point on I made German-like efficiency out of my time on the most worthwhile of endeavours. But I can’t. I was still destined to waste innumerable hours on developments like MSN, Facebook and Netflix.

Nowadays we claim to be so connected. And the Internet has undoubtedly improved communication. This new version of connectedness should be lauded as a good thing. I just can’t help this growing concern that we’re not doing it right: groups of children, in school or on the playground, heads down; credibility measured in retweets and Facebook friends; loneliness as prevalent as ever.

Conversation, collaboration and camaraderie has turned into a numbers game. The depth of our connections has been superseded by their volume. The value of deep-rooted friendships has been deracinated by the single-minded pursuit to add to our “friend” tally. We are left with a long list of acquaintances, superficial friendships and poorly chosen associations. We are provided the illusion that we are connected to a vast network of people on social sites but most of us are being influenced by a narrow range of news outlets and “friends” guided by algorithms designed to keep us clicking, not to expand our horizons or divert us from potential harm; as a consequence group-think bigotry is supplanting individual thought. Despite this many still choose to live on-line, and the travails of life follow. Bullying, fraud, vice have evolved to exploit our shiny new on-line existence with tragic consequences.

But that’s all okay because augmented reality has finally arrived to release us from our troglodytic screen hypnosis and walk us straight—into traffic.

Seriously, this game has managed to subvert our most basic self-preservation instincts: players are walking blithely onto busy streets, nonchalantly into dangerous neighbourhoods and unwittingly off of fuckn’ cliffs! It is a powerful instrument, eerily similar to the nefarious schemes of villains in science fiction and James Bond films.

I get a little unnerved when my curiosity leads me to search for a car or university programme online and I’m hounded for weeks by advertisements from auto makers and correspondence schools. Now, those companies won’t need to hound me, they’ll be able to lure me. A simple algorithm could offer all males aged 25-30 logged on to an augmented reality application an upgrade or special character for walking into a dealership.  Or maybe a more universal strategy would be more effective? From now on, there might be a lot of rare Pokemon hanging out in your local Starbucks.

The Internet has done a lot of good. The internet has also changed a lot. It allows me to share my ideas with anyone who might want to listen. But it also allows me to share my ideas with anyone who will listen. It has made it easier to obtain goods and services not available locally. But it also has made it easier to obtain goods and services not available locally. It has changed how information about the world around us is collected, disseminated, viewed and shared, or ignored. I’m not sure if that makes it a good or bad thing—but it’s certainly proven that it can be either.

I only ask you watch out for those cliffs.

 

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