Tag Archives: Pokemon Go

Great Communicators

Perhaps you’ve encountered it too. You’re in a major city. You’re in a hurry. The person in front of you is plodding along, staring at the device in his or her hand and you can’t get around him or her. You’re being held up by technology. I just want to get to the Port Authority before my bus leaves. The late Jonathan Z. Smith called cell phones “an absolute abomination.” I wouldn’t go quite that far—my bus pass, after all, is on my phone, and I’ve been saved from embarrassing conversations on the desk phone in my cubicle by being able to walk away and find a quiet corner in a corridor where I can talk freely—but I do see his point. While technology has had many benefits, in real life it can slow you down.

A news source I recently read said that heavy smart phone users are more prone to psychological problems than, say, those people who live raw in the bush of southern Africa. Phones isolate as well as connect. Instead of asking somebody for directions, you can turn to your monotoned electronic friend and find out. What you lose is the nuance of human communication. On my first interview in New York City—I was still living in Wisconsin at the time—I was disoriented. Which way was Fifth Avenue? I asked a stranger on the street and learned something in the process. New Yorkers weren’t the rude people I’d been told to expect. In fact, I quite frequently see strangers asking others for directions. I’ve never seen someone refuse to help in those circumstances. Although I’m in a hurry if someone asks me “which direction is Penn Station?” I’ll stop and try to help. It’s a people thing.

One of the distorting lenses of a large city is the acceleration of time. Many of us depend on public transit in its many forms, and none of it is terribly reliable. Being late through no fault of your own is part of the territory in a city like New York. It’s become harder to stay on time because of smartphones, however. A few years back I saw it with the Pokémon Go release. Groups of phoners wandering around, slowing the flow of foot traffic on sidewalks that are somehow never wide enough. If only I could communicate with people! How does one do that when they’re riveted to the device in their hand? I wouldn’t say they’re an absolute abomination, but I agree with the dear departed Smith that there are hidden costs to being so connected that we can’t talk to one another. I would say more, but I think my phone’s ringing.

Even Thoth can’t help walking and texting.

Sense of Place

Visiting the Holocaust Museum was one of the most wrenching activities of my life. I was in Washington DC for a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature when my friend Jeff came across the Atlantic to attend. He wanted to see the Museum and I reluctantly agreed to accompany him. About half-way through I found a secluded bench, sat, and wept. I simply couldn’t take the weight of the sadness and cruelty this represented. I have trouble telling another person “no,” let alone striking, or harming them. How could millions of people simply be discounted? Murdered for being born who they were? Could there be anything more inhumane? A quote from the recently departed Elie Wiesel hung on the wall behind my bench. “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.” My wife asked if I would be okay. “I don’t know,” I said.

I have to admit to being a Pokémon illiterate. I don’t know who or what Pokémon is. I do know it/he represents a game universe that originated in Japan. The last “game” I ever played was Myst. Before that it was Pong. I suspect that growing up without computers made real games seem, well, real. I don’t have time for computer games and I wouldn’t know an X-Box if if fell on my head. I don’t even know if they still exist. You’d have to be dead, however, not to know that Pokémon Go is all that anyone cares about any more. An app that lets you “find” Pokémon in various places, adults and kids alike are blindly walking out in front of cars to get her/it. One of the undying lessons of my childhood was, “if the ball rolls out into the street, don’t run after it!” Natural selection at work.

So what do Pokémon and the Holocaust Museum have to do with each other? Nothing at all. Or thus it should be. A story in the Washington Post shares the plea of the museum for people to stop seeking Pokémon there. One of the sites programmed for the whimsical creatures is more sacred than a church, synagogue, or mosque. Genocide is not a game. Headlines boldly proclaim that Pokémon Go is great for businesses. The Holocaust Museum is not about business. It is a mass grave on a scale that the human mind simply can’t conceive. A place to remind us where hatred and fascism lead. As difficult as it may be, we need to visit that terrifying place and we need to remember that it began as distrust of those who are different.

Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid, Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: AgnosticPreachersKid, Wikimedia Commons

For the Dogs

DogsThatKnowYou know that feeling of being dropped into a very strange place?  Sure, it’s disorienting for a while, but once you get used to it, you start to enjoy your surroundings.  Now ask yourself: what if my entire way of looking at life is based on a faulty paradigm?  Many, I suspect, will drop out at that point.  There’s strange, and then there’s going too far.  For those wedded to the idea of finding the truth, however, weirdness is part of the journey.  I just finished reading Rupert Sheldrake’s Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.  Yes, it felt like the room was spinning (actually, I read it on the bus, so that might’ve been true a time or two), but it confirmed something I’ve suspected for many years.  The reigning, mechanistic universe paradigm is wrong.  Please don’t take this as an anti-science statement.  Sheldrake is a bona fide scientist, and I’m an avid reader of science books.  It’s not so much that science is wrong as it is that science doesn’t go far enough.  Ever since the Industrial Revolution—not coincidentally—we’ve been informed that the universe is really a giant machine.  We can figure out how it works using this squishy stuff in our heads that insists we can find Pokemon everywhere we look when it’s not busy solving the riddles of the mulitverse.

Sheldrake, who is given a wide berth by many scientists, states what any of us who grew up with pets knows: they know more than they’re saying.  Admitting up front that much of the evidence is anecdotal, Sheldrake provides empirical studies to demonstrate what folk say.  Dogs do know when their owners are coming home, before they are within sight, hearing, or smelling range.  His study, however, isn’t limited to dogs or to knowing when someone’s coming.  Animals, by virtue of their own minds, have abilities that we do not.  Since they don’t speak our language, we assume they are dumb.  In fact, as this book shows, a great many animals know a great deal more than we do.  The question is, if this is the truth why don’t we hear more about it?

We prefer, it seems, our truth to be qualified.  There’s a lot at stake here.  The reigning paradigm keeps us plugged into this corporate machine we’ve devised.  Our lifestyle cannot subsist without the subordination of animals.  We can’t give them abilities we lack, apart from tastiness.  If the universe isn’t a machine, it might open the door for a broader view of reality.  Maybe it is better to be post-Christian, but religion has proven benefits to humans (and perhaps animals).  Why does religion remain in a mechanistic universe?  Perhaps what we call “souls” are the same as “minds” and perhaps they aren’t the same as brains.  If we really do have minds, it is in our best interest to care for them, develop them, and improve them.  It may seem like a strange world indeed where your dog informs your view of reality.  Read Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, however, and see if you don’t find yourself wagging your tale, just a bit.