Being okay with Pokemon GO

I feel conflicted. Like to my core. And it’s ridiculous and not worth writing about, yet here I am. Writing in this space for the first time in who-knows-how-many months. And why? I don’t even want to say. It’s part of the conflict.

Ugh, whatever. Fine.

I need to talk about Pokemon GO for maybe just five minutes.

As a person who proudly categorizes myself as regular-age, I will admit that my skepticism-slash-annoyance at new social technology seems to be growing over time. It’s less about the applications themselves, and more about the merits of a thing having to be really substantial to pull my attention. Inevitably, I cave. Regular-age or no, I like to be caught up. I can’t have an opinion until I have enough information. I like to have opinions.

I dragged my feet, but I meandered my way into Snapchat. I’ve got an abandoned Peach account. Ello account. Path account. Pair account. Ad infinitum. There are probably also one million accounts I never bothered with creating because I didn’t care enough to have an opinion. Or I didn’t know the platform existed. Or my interest wasn’t piqued enough to bother.

But this Pokemon thing? I’m struggling.

I’m equal parts “Get off my lawn!” and “How do I get to Level 5 so I can do battle in that gym thing?” I am simultaneously disturbed by the hordes of Pokemon Zombies traveling our streets, and delighted by the droves of people socially engaging in something fun and active. I am concerned for people’s safety as they blindly enter traffic or trample each other, but also convinced that–as it has always been–there are ways to not endanger one’s life when using a mobile device.

Apprehensions aside, I forced myself beyond wondering what it all means for society and allowed myself to have a little fun with Pokemon GO this week. I even took my six-year-old Pokemon fan on a field trip to our tiny downtown to do some exploring. Here’s what I found:

  • The Pokemon Zombies are largely a friendly and helpful sort. Stand in the middle of an unfamiliar city in need of directions, and you may never catch someone’s attention. Stand near a PokeStop with a confused look on your face, and a kind stranger will stop to show you how to spin the circle and get the PokeBalls.
  • It is indeed possible to search for Pokemon and also watch where you’re walking. Your phone will vibrate when Pokemon are near. You don’t have to be Michael Scott driving into the lake because your phone says so.
  • Playing Pokemon GO with your child is a good introduction to technology etiquette. “Never be watching your phone while you’re in motion.” “Never run into or over other people while using your phone.” “Even if there is a Pokemon on that family’s table as they sit outside and eat dinner at that restaurant, it is not okay to charge over there and catch your 17th Rattata.”
  • You will catch side-eye from people appearing to judge you and your use of technology while parenting. But you’ll also get caught up in the fun with other parents and their kids, teenagers in groups, college students holding hands and also smartphones. You’ll feel like one of those people. But also one of those people!

I admit that I still feel a little unsettled by it all. There’s just something about how quickly the masses have been engaged in this single, all-consuming experience. It’s exciting, as a marketer and student of communication, to examine how movements like these are carried. Think of the potential! Meanwhile, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re all in a George Ramero movie, and this is the beginning of something we can’t quite explain.

For me it comes down to this: Zombie metaphors notwithstanding, Pokemon GO’s opportunities for greatness or debauchery are just like any other social app. Or life really. It’s all about the way people choose to engage–or not.

And so, I’ll keep playing Pokemon GO with my kid. And maybe on my own. Not all the time, or maybe whenever I feel like it. And I won’t try to make sense of what it all means.

I may just shudder now and then.

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