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Pokémon Go, from the Beach: Two Perspectives

Pokémon Go, from the Beach: Two Perspectives

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.

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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.

July 24, 2016Comments are DisabledRead More
Why Live Video is So Cool

Why Live Video is So Cool

People broadcast their Nintendo sessions. Their Jägermeister. A low angle on their TV set as they prop the phone up on their couch. Someone is broadcasting his daughter’s basketball game. And another is broadcasting her baby’s bathtime. I know this because as product manager for Broadcast for Friends I have the keys to the castle–that is, I can see the public broadcasts made by our users flicker across my screen and I can drop in on them from time to time.

What amazes me still is how cool most people–that is, people who don’t live in a world of technology–find what Ustream can do with live video. People laugh with delight when they find out they are live on air. People are happy to broadcast the most mundane details of their lives–one man has been broadcasting his hummingbird feeder for three hours–if only to reach obscure corners of the world. The magic is only compounded by the immediate sociability of the feed. It’s not only live, it’s on Facebook, and freely available to any one of your friends with an internet connection.

Why is live video so cool? What is it about the sharing of peoples’ lives half a world away in Germany or Korea so interesting? Surely we can do the same thing by turning on the television news. But the rawness of mobile broadcasts, the shaking of the phone, the looks on peoples’ faces when they find themselves on live TV at the whim of a consumer device–these experiences are brand new in the history of the universe. It’s not just the shareability of video, which itself has created its own niche market (think Viddy and SocialCam). It’s the fact that this video is live, realtime, untampered with. Seeing that “Live” label on the viewer confirms for the audience the video’s authenticity, and broadcasters, in turn, experience acute self-awareness at the immutability of their broadcast. “We are live on Facebook,” someone said. “Don’t screw it up!”

August 25, 2012Comments are DisabledRead More
Rain and a Busker

Rain and a Busker

When the rain starts falling in Budapest it doesn’t come with a warning.  The drops fall heavy and splatter on the cracked sidewalks and the citizens run for cover.  Men in suits dash single file alongside the granite buildings.  The windows of the tenements on higher floors that were open for the heat start shuttering one by one.  Occasionally you spot an old woman looking out of her window mournfully at the rain.  In the summer, the booksellers in the stalls on Vörösmarty tér must close up shop, which for them means hinging shut their wood book huts.  You can smell wet lumber from the new ones, and sometimes, the smell of books caught unfortunately in the rain.

Today I found myself walking a lot through the rain, as it happened to be one of those days I had several errands to take care of in the city.  The humidity was bad throughout and the heat never subsided, so jackets were optional.  I found myself soaked by warm summer rain between my first stop at Deák Ferenc Tèr and the repair shop I needed to drop off my iPhone.  I skirted between cars splashing their wheels on the road and the restauranteurs desperate to clear their sidewalk tables, taking care not to step on too many puddles or cracks or bumps in the road.

The iPhone repair shop is a business built into a residential building, which makes it hard to find at first.  The nondescript building is old–perhaps 20’s–and has a gaping hole in the front door and the inside “lobby,” if you can call it that, smells like the basement of a castle.  When I got inside, the rain came in with me, not only on my clothes but in the air where it contaminates the room with that mildew smell.  My feet squeaked on the wood floors.  There were 3 employees working behind the counter with a pile of every kind of Apple device: iMacs, Macbook Pros, even an old iBook.  There was a bit of a line, but I got my iPhone dropped off to have the back replaced.  An hour and a half later, it was fixed, for the grand price of $15.  There’s the market at work.

Now, I found myself with a recently upgraded camera lens and, thanks to my intermediary trip to the “Media Mart,” Budapest’s Best Buy, I had a new cell phone as well (later, I would find out that the cell phone didn’t come with a battery).  I also had a renewed opportunity to walk back to the metro in the rain, back through the book stalls and the empty cafes, back under the dripping awnings and yawning shutters, back up into the belly of the city and back home.

On the way, I saw something that struck me for its peculiarity.  I saw an old man, no younger than eighty, standing and wearing a grey vest, white button down shirt, and plain dark pants.  He had a folded and worn beige hat that concealed his almost bald head.  And he was holding a violin.  Poised, standing there, underneath an overhang to protect himself from the rain, what made this scene peculiar was not that he was holding a violin, but that he wasn’t playing it.  His violin case was open before him with no coins.  He was staring straight ahead into the misty air.  And he wasn’t playing the violin–he was just holding it like a violinist does, by the neck, with the bow hanging from his index finger.

It struck me what else was out of place in this scene:  there were no people.  Other than myself, no one was venturing anywhere near this square on this particular day.  It was devoid of listeners, willing or unwilling, which makes for a poor choice for a street performer.  But the fact that he wasn’t even performing for an audience that wasn’t there made me very confused but a little sad.  I wondered what he was thinking about, standing alone and abandoned on a rainy day when only he had the fortitude to make it to his spot and no one else.  I wondered if he felt his time slipping away.  The image that popped into my head was a freshly shorn lamb in the rain.  I hesitate to use the word pathetic, but in the strictest sense of the Greek root pathos there is no doubt that his presence caused me–his only witness–to pause and emote powerfully.  I could not imagine what it would be like to be him, only that I would find myself in a position of great sadness.  And perhaps, this is why the violin was there.  If he was playing at all that day, it would not have been for money, or for entertainment.  Playing the violin would have given him the comfort of a steadfast and lifelong friend.

Other vignettes from the rain:  a couple kissing under an umbrella on the sidewalk.  A man fixing his awning on a ladder, straddling the ladder with both feet and walking it laterally like makeshift stilts.  A bicycle fallen into a puddle.  A wet dog.

June 12, 2012Comments are DisabledRead More