Friday

New season of The Walking Dead started early

And the first episode is entitled Poke`mon Go

I learned a lot during my twenty-minute walk through a local mall at 8:30 last evening. There were the usual happenings for that time of day, retail employees taking out the trash and prepping stores to close while lingering shoppers made their way to exits or enjoyed that last few sips of whatever they were drinking from the white paper cup.

But there was something else.

Other beings who I can only describe as "roamers" - like the nickname given to zombies on some past episode of The Walking Dead - were scattered throughout the mall as well. They were doing various, random things; standing still while facing a wall, looking blankly down while standing at the edge of a water fountain pond, or simply shuffling slowly along.

It was my son who first noticed them.

He said something about starting a count and quickly began counting "1...2...3...4...". Within a minute or two he had counted to "12". In our twenty or so minutes in the mall he counted "32".

He was counting people playing Poke`mon Go, an augmented reality game that has people hunting critters that aren't there, in places nobody else can see...with a cell phone. As my son explained the game, I started people watching. The definition of Schizophrenia came to mind and the term itself began to flash in upper-case through my minds eye.

What bothered me about this was not the number of people playing the game itself but the expressionless, emotionless faces. While a few giggles or smiles could be seen in the screen glow, the majority of these folks (all ages, by the way) seemed to have vacated their personality.

I had a quick flashback to the past weekend as I picked my girls up from volleyball camp at a local college, prior to any knowledge of Poke`mon Go, mind you. Four individual college students, one on a skateboard, one on a bike, and two walking, stopped in their tracks for no apparent reason. There they stood, frozen, staring at their phones-as if they'd all received the same message (or command) at the same time. I expected to hear Rod Serling begin a narration explaining the situation and informing me that I'd "entered the Twilight Zone."

According to Wikipedia: 
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to understand what is real. Common symptoms include false beliefs, unclear or confused thinking, hearing voices, reduced social engagement and emotional expression, and a lack of motivation.  

We've become accustomed to fixation on our mobile devices and seeing people reading text, email or whatever while walking around. But Poke`mon Go seems different to me.

Proponents of the game claim that there is a positive impact on physical and mental health. Some sources go to extremes by stating that Poke`mon Go cures social anxiety and depression while others proclaim that this game will ward off diabetes and metabolic syndrome as it causes people to be active. And people seem to be buying into these claims without the smallest of scientific evidence.

Even Forbes is expounding the benefits.

A recent Forbes on-line article proclaims "Five ways Pokemon Go is Actually Good For You" -

I'm skeptical - but let's review:

According to Forbes, Poke`mon Go has the following benefits:

  1.  Lots of walking. My observation: yes people were in fact walking. The pace of the walking seemed to be just enough to break inertia at rest. So, yes, there is walking but not even close the pace you'd need to increase heart rate or gain any fitness benefit.
  2. You get some fresh air and sunlight. My observation: well, maybe. Every person I saw in this random, non-scientific observation was inside the Mall...one player told me "this is nothing, wait till lunch time" meaning there will be a lot more people playing inside the mall. 
  3. It's Educational...according to Forbes "To catch Poke`mon, you use Poke`balls, which you can get when you visit Poke`stops. And Poke`stops just happen to include many landmarks and historical markers, including those hidden ones in your own neighborhood." My observation: somebody is smoking crack. Really? This game will not only cure your depression, anxiety, but get you fit and healthy while educating in history? I can't take this point seriously. 
  4. It brings people together-litteraly in real life. My observation: It brings people together just like a collection of driverless bumper cars. Like the random groups of roamers (zombies) from The Walking Dead, these people seemed to just float around-totally disconnected from their environment. 
  5. It offers mental breaks without getting too far off track. My observation: Is anyone reading the
    STTNG "The Game"
    news? There have been numerous reports of car accidents caused by playing this game while driving and it is certainly as deadly as texting while driving. I'm reminded of the Star Trek TNG episode "The Game" that causes the Enterprise crew to lapse into some augmented reality 
    mind-control state as a result of mental break gaming. 
I freely admit that my years of study in domestic preparedness sometimes causes me to wear my tinfoil hat too tight, but Poke`mon Go frightens me. This game is taking the attachment to our connectedness to a new level and subtly introducing augmented reality to the masses. I'm not sure I want my reality augmented. The data collection concerns (based on what we know as of this writing) are growing as is the potential for abuse. There have been a couple of cases where players have entered remote areas while playing and been assaulted.

As fiction becomes reality, I'm concerned about the next installment, at what comes next after we've accepted augmented reality as our own reality. We seem to readily accept a game-app to tell us where to go, what to look at, and don't care who is doing the programming or collecting the data. We're willing to wait for the next message, or command, to come in.

There is a threat here. And like John Nada (Roddy Piper's character in John Carpenters 1988 film, They Live) I'm wondering if I'm the only one who sees it.