I have long suspected that smartphones are going to be the thing that undoes our society. Forget terrorism, despotic states, and nuclear weapons – we are going to be destroyed from within by subtle yet nefarious forces that we never see coming – addictive things that keep us focused on that little device in our hands instead of what is happening all around us in our lives.
One day I overheard a guy in a department store asking the cashier to help him – he had lost his phone. He begged, “Please, my whole world is in that phone!” While I felt sorry for him, I also realized the salient truth of what he had said – without that phone, he had nothing. His case is a microcosm in a time when none of us remembers a phone number or knows directions to get anywhere because we rely on our phones to take care of those things.
We have all seen the hilarious clips of people walking and texting and the results of their collisions, falls, and dives. While these things may be humorous, they are also a sad indictment of a culture that is fixated on a virtual world that revolves inside a rectangular object that fits in pocketbooks or pockets; however, I see many people walking with devices in hand, almost afraid to let them go for even a few seconds. What have we become when a phone is like a virtual crutch or cane?
So into this tech-absorbed milieu we get Pokemon GO – the smartphone game taking the world by storm with little images of the Pokemon (pocket monsters) needing to be located and captured in real places. This augmented reality drops the little darlings in parks, churches, stores, and, well, you get the idea. The virtual creatures are being chased by (the game was meant for kids but I have seen more adults playing it than little ones) real people who are falling, tripping, and even driving cars into trees in order to get the job done.
My problem with something like Pokemon GO, beyond the obvious dangers, is that even though it was meant to get kids off the sofa and outside for exercise, it is also sinking the users deeper into a virtual fog. As a parent of two kids who are on their phones and the iPad too much already, this is like adding insult to possible injuries.
I think reality – no matter how unsettling it may be at times – has to be promoted rather than encouraging more escape from it. In the past people watched TV to escape from reality, then along came a slap in the face like the Kardashians to shake us up. What they call “reality TV” is no more real than a sitcom, but it pulled even more people into its web. The advent of the Internet brought a different kind of reality – virtual reality – to get us even more distanced from the real world, and then smartphones took the journey into this cyber netherworld into more personal and mobile directions.
The Internet has maximized what used to be on television and that which is virtual – and this deadly combination with smartphones has made us sitting ducks – with our thumbs tapping away at a little screen we can conveniently take with us wherever we go. The obsession with the virtual is going to be our Achilles’ heel – the thing that undoes society worse than any enemy could. Along comes the insidious Pokemon GO, and suddenly everyone is falling over one another and causing havoc in the streets.
I have seen people wanting to “get inside to get the Pokemon” in places that are locked up – here in New York City churches are not always open, nor are stores, libraries, and restaurants. When people start crossing the line by crawling over fences or gates to capture the little virtual monsters on private property, then we have potential disasters in the making. There are also the accidents that have already occurred that portend what will be just as deadly as texting while driving – all this courtesy of a little game meant for kids.
As a parent I like when my kids use their devices for educational purposes – and they do this regularly – so it is not a simple case of taking them away in order to prevent them from playing Pokemon GO. It would be easier if the game would just be gone, but its success means that it is not going anywhere for now.
Even if Pokemon GO disappeared tomorrow, I fear the damage is already done, for the obsession is something that can be generated again and again. This game proves how susceptible we humans are to becoming tech-addicted lemmings, only too ready to follow the latest virtual fad right off an actual cliff.
Another craze will no doubt present itself soon and, just as my kids no longer even touch their once beloved Wii and all the assorted games and accessories we got for it, Pokemon GO will one day be gone – that cannot day come soon enough for me.