In Defence of Pokémon Go.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this summer, you’ll agree that Pokémon Go has turned out to be a technological phenomenon of unprecedented prominence. Throughout the past few weeks, millions of youngsters and not-so-young adults have taken to the streets with the -rather ambitious!- aim of catching the 151 pokémon corresponding to the first generation, a task entailing lots of walking and observation. The premise of the app/game is rather clear: through a *relatively* simple system whereby trainers must collect objects, visit “Pokéstops” and catch Pokémon, people are being encouraged to do lots of walking and, by extension, exercise. Viewed in that light, Pokémon Go represents an interesting mélange of technology and concern for our well-being, a characteristic that has earned the game a great deal of attention and praise in different media outlets; however, the positive side of the game has been overshadowed by numerous criticisms accusing it of enslaving us to technology. Remarks that, as I shall now argue, strike me as inherently hypocritical and rather unfair.

Before I go on to express my personal view, there’s one thing I’d like you to bear in mind: paradoxically though it may sound, I am not that fond of Pokémon Go myself. In fact, I am perfectly aware of the risks entailed by the app: totally immersed in the world of Pokémon, users are likely to ignore their actual surroundings, confining themselves to a screen and potentially augmenting their chances of having an accident. Contrary to what you may expect, I am not going to question your line of reasoning. Technology is a double-edged sword and, as such, must be used properly. But Pokémon Go is by no means the target we should be aiming for. Do not allow trends to lead you astray; our obsession with technology stems from something much deeper and darker, a set of ideals entrenched in the vertebrae of our society.

It’s no secret that portable electronic devices and apps have been in vogue for a few years now. The Internet became part of our lives in the mid-90’s and our lives have changed drastically ever since; however, the advent of apps and smartphones has amplified the influence exerted by technology and computing companies. What started off as a limited net of computers has gradually evolved into a massive craze, permeating every single part of society and affecting all kinds of demographics. Try looking at the passengers sitting next to you on the train and you’ll immediately realise that over 75% of the passengers are ignoring their surroundings in favour of a screen which, in most cases, is bombarding them with useless information anybody in their right mind would brush aside. 3 chat windows open on WhatsApp, 2 chat windows open on the FB app, your Gmail account, an endless stream of Buzzfeed lists and whatnot. I’m not saying technology is corrupt and excruciatingly time-consuming — it actually has a lot of potential. What I’m saying is that we’re getting it all wrong. And, as is our wont, we’re blaming the wrong people.

Pokémon Go users are definitely part of the anxiety-driven system I’ve just described; however, it’d be unfair to focus our hatred and frustration on them when the problem has been right under our noses for a few years now. Geeks are already stigmatised and looked down upon enough, thank you very much. So what if your 30-year-old sister-in-law has downloaded the app? How does that make her a child? Most of the people you are criticising have jobs, relatives to take care of and, above all, the right to find -healthy- solace in games. And sure, you’ll find lots of NEETs among our ranks, but you’re bound to find just as many on the other apps. Technology has once again become an excuse to ostracise people who revel in games, anime and other alternative forms of entertainment as if it were not possible to reconcile different kinds of preferences. As if we could only be given one label to stick to in our lives.

Picture displaying a Pikachu in control of -presumably- a Pokémon Go user. The image has become a staple of Facebook walls and timelines, perpetuating the idea that Pokémon Go is to blame for our technology-crazed society.

It is time to put a stop to this witch-hunt, put our thoughts in order and go back to the real source of the problem. People need to be educated. The Internet is still a recent phenomenon, an overnight sensation for which we haven’t been properly prepared. Instead of using it to our advantage, we’ve found a way to enslave ourselves and blame the high spheres, corporations and, bluntly put, everybody but ourselves. And sure, the capitalist system is at fault, but only to a certain extent. We just can’t keep delaying the inevitable; we must own up to our mistakes. Don’t fall into the trap of segregation, put your excuses aside and consider the possibility that, maybe just for once, we have much more in common than we might think. We might be facing the same problem.

Don’t let your prejudices mislead you, it’s not the Pokémon franchise you should be after. Our society has changed drastically in the past 20 years, and it is imperative that we find the strategies and techniques to cushion the blow. If not, it’s just a matter of time before we lose our agency in the face of technology. I, for one, think that at least Pokémon Go does allow you to look at your surroundings and go for a walk, but that’s beside the point. Education is essential; awareness should be raised. Technology is not a fiend; it is a very useful tool we’re still coming to terms with. People are bound to disagree and have differing views -and that’s perfectly fine-, but please, don’t cast the blame on certain parts of the population just because you’re unwilling to accept you’re part of the problem. We can all do better than that.

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