I went for a walk to the beach today (not something I do often), and ended up at the end of Pico Street near dusk, right on the Santa Monica beach boardwalk. I was surprised to find not swarms of beachgoers coming home from a hot day in the sun, but instead, swarms of Pokémon Go players trying to snag a CP 875 Aerodactyl.
I, for one, am at Level 15 (go Team Mystic!) and hip to the game that reminds me of my youth playing Pokémon Gold on the Game Boy Color in the back seat of the family SUV on the way to grandpa’s. And I knew lots of people were playing it, and that the Shutters on the Beach Hotel just happened to be a lured PokéStop at the time.
But even I was taken aback by what appeared to be living proof of a digital obsession so widespread we should seriously consider integrating voting functionality into the app for the upcoming election.
There are two different ways to view what I saw today, and both perhaps speak to a distinct vision of humanity. Like a wave unlike the ones tip-toeing to the sand at the beach today, both views came crashing over me at once.
In the first, humanity is more united than we appear, and not as divided as our politicians and media would have us believe. The power of technology to bring together people of all races, ages, and backgrounds towards a common goal. The fact that kids are going outside again and breathing fresh air, that adults who have severe social phobias can connect with each other over their mutual Pokédexes. I marvel at the optimism of free association and expression, the sweet air of voluntary and uncoerced engagement, the triumph of innovation, the cross-cultural barriers being smashed, free trade and the free exchange of ideas, art, technology and progress across ethnicities and languages creating a better world one Poké Ball at a time.
In the other, a technology obsession to the point of addiction, a culture starved for real art and craving bytes as a substitute for cosmopolitan nourishment. A megacorporation (or two) slurping up billions of data points from all citizens of the world to be used to create even more addicting and useless games with an even broader appeal. The best minds of our generation sucked into a hamster wheel of so-called technological progress while ignoring the real problems facing society and the world. The talking heads of the media catching Pikachu on air instead of holding our politicians accountable. To think of the children wasting away in fictional worlds instead of engaging with their peers and learning how to forge real connections in lieu of digital ones. And of course I could not help but think of this episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
What hath the PokéGods wrought?
It all, I suppose, depends on your perspective. But whatever you do out there, look both ways before you cross the street to catch that Caterpie. Happy hunting.