Much has been made of the potential dangers of Pokémon Go since the wildly successful mobile app’s release earlier this month. We’ve heard stories about two guys walking off a cliff in California (they survived … but they’re likely never going to live that one down), as well as others who’ve had accidents because they were so engrossed in the game they didn’t notice where they were going.
I think there’s another aspect of the game that likely won’t make headlines, but one that might be just as important for us to consider. It, too, has to do with what we’re seeing—or what we’re not seeing—as we increasingly move through life with our screens right there with us every step of the way.
The first day I downloaded the game to do some research for Plugged In, I spent a couple of hours in Acacia Park in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. I was astonished to see so many other people playing it as well. And we weren’t hard to spot: we were a tribe of Go-ers ambling almost zombie-style with our smartphones dutifully out in front of us as we stalked our imaginary creatures.
I talked with a number of people, asking them what Pokémon they’d caught, how long they’d been playing, what they liked about the game, etc. It was invigorating, actually, to suddenly have common ground with so many strangers.
Somewhere in the midst of noticing who was playing, however, I began to notice quite a few others in the park who weren’t. Most them appeared (as much as one can assess such things at a casual glance) to be homeless.
I couldn’t help but wonder what those folks thought of all these people, most of whom were in their 20s and 30s, wandering around a park with their smartphones, playing what’s been named an augmented reality game while they were trying to cope with a much harsher reality.
In the last few years, it seems (again from my subjective perspective) that the number of homeless people in our city has risen dramatically. Desperate folks without work sit or stand at many of the city’s busiest intersections. So many, in fact, that I’ve sadly grown “used” to them. I just don’t notice them as much as I perhaps once did.
Wandering through the park playing Pokemon Go, it occurred to me that such technology might make it harder to see the real world around us. Not just that particular game, not just that particular group of people. When our desire to either connect online or disconnect from our lives for a digital escape becomes so pervasive, and so easy, we might lose the ability to notice other, more important things right in front of us.
Look, I struggle with this. I’m not wagging a finger as one who has it all figured out or always interacts with technology in healthy ways. Sometimes I just want a break, just want to “escape,” and my smartphone is a ready portal to do so.
But I don’t want to miss important stuff because of that tendency—whether that’s the person in need in front of me in the park or even my own kids trying to get my attention.
And so I have to keep remembering that the reality that really matters most is the real one, not the augmented version in the palm of my hand.