Pokemon Go. It has consumed my every waking hour. Well, the ones that aren’t spent feeding people, on hygene, playing other video games, working on my dissertation, and eating pancakes. I love pancakes.
And look! It’s not password protected! My dissertation is coming along apace. I hope it continues to do so. So many variables, but I have written all the chapters and now have to do a bunch of editing, smooshing together of sections, APA fixing, and appendixes and such. Still, written! Woo!
So, Pokemon Go. First I downloaded it because I was curious and another friend had just started. Then I got super obsessed. Then I joined the Facebook Groups for Austin and found out how obsessed one could truly be (in the absence of kids who prevent you from abandoning them around midnight to troll for pokes at the Texas capitol which is THE BOMB for pokemon go. Ahem.)
Several of my mom-friends are obsessed as well. Oddly, less dudes, though some of them (my husband) are getting into it. My daughter even got her grandfather addicted.
So “addicted” implies negative stuff. And there are plenty of risks, as corporate news has already exploited. Obsession, car accidents, walking off cliffs, blah blah blah. I’m going to explore it from a first person phenomenological (what I experience it as) perspective.
- Obsession. Like any online interest, it can make me a little jumpy and neurotic. Too much time spent projecting my consciousness into cyberspace has a tendency to feed on itself. Once I get into the cycle, I have a hard time getting out. I have a particular problem with this in the evening when I should be winding down. Luckily there’s not much pokemon activity in my neighborhood, so I don’t spend much time with it after dark.
- Flip side – My husband has been riding his bike all over the neighborhood and has gotten significantly fitter. I don’t ride bikes, but I’ve been doing a lot more walking. Carrot; meet stick. (in the form of fictional critters made of ones and zeros. Weird.)
- Lowering of inhibitions. Yes, I surreptitiously load up on pokeballs at pokestopsin my car, if traffic isn’t too fast (never on the highway) or the road is empty. I usually pull over if I need to catch some rare poke critter. I predict that cops all over the country are going to figure this out very soon and start issuing tons of (probably well-deserved) tickets for people fiddling with their phones while driving. The hands free laws in Texas are less enforced than elsewhere, but I doubt municipalities will resist this potential cash cow.
- The flip side of lowered inhibitions: I HATE being outside in the summer. H A T E . It’s so flipping hot, bright, and humid. Bugs. Mosquitoes. Ants that bite. This August, we got tons of rain, so the temps are about 10-15 degrees lower than usual. I’ve spent a ton of time doing stuff outside alone, with the husband, with the kid, or with friends that involve me moving around, sweating, and not really caring because I’m having fun.
- Acquisitiveness. While I’m no neurologist, I know that my brain likes it when I buy, am gifted, or find stuff. In the short term, new stuff=happy. Pokemon Go allows you to “win”, find, and buy stuff which can build into more stuff. It really gets to that wanty place in the brain. Is this good or bad? As always, it depends. If it gets me and my family out of our rut and out and about doing new things (which it has), I’m going to put this on the positive side. However:
- Flip side – you can make in app purchases. It is very easy to rationalize using hard cash to buy fake money to buy fake stuff. I fell into this trap in another game and after I came to my senses, I vowed that I would not do any more wanty in-app purchases. (Only the ones that add functionality to a utility type app, and only then with some serious consideration.) It’s essentially gambling, in the sense that you spend some money on items like lures or incense (short term things that attract extra pokemon to your location), and you may or may not get any pokemon of “value” out of it. Other purchases can speed up your rate of egg hatching-the only way to get out-of-region critters. So this is potentially and endless suckhole for money if you have a hard time controlling those impulses. Beware.
- Relational stuff. Yes, you can become sucked in and ignore your relationships blah blah blah. While I have been known to snap at my kid for not catching all the pokestops while I’m driving (whoops), in general this has created some new friendships for me and some new activities for my family. It’s pretty fun to have something we’re all interested in. My husband and I have very different interests, and the ones we have in common (sci fi and superhero movies, innovative restaurants for example) aren’t age appropriate or interesting for the kid. So we’ve been doing way more stuff as a family, which I call a win. I have a couple of friendships that were more casual that have moved on to the “hanging out together” phase because of the game. We’ve also started to solidify some family friendships in the same way.
- Health. I’ve mostly covered this, but from a personal standpoint, being outside is really good for my body and my psyche. I was cooped up inside for most of the spring, because pollen counts were high and I was plagued with chronic asthma. Every time I would spend a few hours outside doing something fun, it would get worse. It sucked. In spite of being in the midst of the shitshow that is the end of the dissertation process, I’m feeling more energetic and balanced. My husband, who needs to keep his weight low to keep pressure off one messed up and one fake hip, has lost 15 pounds from tooling around on his bike at all hours. The kid is mega-stressed from the first few weeks of school, but dragging her around to pokemon-heavy parks has really helped her unwind. My social life has expanded. I’m going to go with WIN.
So there you have it. My experience of Pokemon Go, while fraught with the usual risks of video game play (minus the social media trolling and sedentary effects), has been pretty fun and generally good for my overall mental and physical health. The media, as usual, is painting as entirely binary. It’s not. Nothing is. But if you decide to start playing, let me know. The next release is supposed to include trading!
Okay, so now that I’ve looked a bit at how the onslaught of triggery clickbait is beginning to damage my calm, and I’ve looked at my own role in participating, how about them internets then? When did they get so clickbaity and why?
Facebook. Facebook. Facebook.
It used to be not-profitable. Then they added targeted ads. Fine. I occasionally click them, realizing with a mild malaise that they must have some access to my browsing history. Ick. Still, easily filtered as long as it’s not for diet products or plastic surgery or Trump swag.
But then came what seems to be the major dominance of news outlets in the feed. It used to be if I “liked” a news source (HuffPost women, for example), I would occasionally articles in my feed. Then they started to repeat. Then they started to clog the crap out of my feed. And then they got more and more clickbaity. “Ten reasons to wear a fatkini.” “Should you get married?” “What women over 30 need to know.” Then I started following more social justice groups. Repro rights. BOPO. LGBT rights. Political candidates. Feminist magazines.
And while I love my social justice, they are old-school when it comes to spamming. They seem to thing “more is better.” Email, snail mail, texts, and tons of posts. But people can filter repitition. It’s harder to filter clickbait, especially if it’s scary. Our brains gravitate towards scary as a means of self-protection. Advertisers are hip to this–have been since Freud’s nephew invented psychological marketing in the aughts of the 20th century.
My Facebook feed became a veritable clusterfuck of informing, emphatic, repetitive, and often disturbing content. This content is often also propagated by my friends who generally share my beliefs*. (This is a whole other topic. If I have a friend or relative that has beliefs I find offensive, I’ll “unfollow” rather than “unfriend” them. This means my view of the interwebs is even more myopic. Except for my research which doesn’t filter ANYTHING so there’s that.)
No matter how many times I click on “less of this” there doesn’t seem to be less of that. If I don’t see it, one of my friends may post it and my outrage/anxiety/helpessness will be reactivated. We used to use Facebook to connect. Sometimes just on the surface (dinner pics!) and sometimes on a much deeper, more meaningful level. This discourse has been pushed to the margins of my feed by often worthy, but exhausting content. I’m exhausted.
It’s all about the money.
I’m not a scholar on this. I’m sure there are some well-researched think pieces that I haven’t read. But it’s pretty obvious that the foundering news industry has taken to the internet like nutria to the Louisiana swamps. And like nutria, they’ve changed it fundamentally. That’s probably why so many people gravitate to Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media less littered by advertising and paid placement.
We became used to “free” services and forgot how we, the users, are totally paying for our free services by having less and less control over the content.
Beyond that, I think that the sensationalism of the press and its ability to cherry pick content for likely audiences, is causing some major distortion in how we view our worlds. Again, not the expert. I try to do my research on stuff that is social media propagated, rather than corporate-created. But I can’t ignore that the corporations have a huge amount of control over what we see and subsequently react to. While super cool bloggers like Lindy West and Jes Baker write awesomly for Huffpost and The Guardian, they write on topics that have become very controversial (which I think is good – visibility=good) and the corporate media takes advantage of this for their own, often less than savory reasons.
Again, not a bullish attitude for a bullish researcher, but there it is. The internet was gloriously free of major structural power for about a decade. That seems to have passed. I have to watch commercials for a 3 minute clip of The Daily Show. Pinterest, my guilty pleasure, is littered with “targeted ads” and “suggestions.” Their algorithms suck, btw. A tatted up middle-aged female person with a bunch of BOPO and recipe pins does not want ads for “the five worst foods for your waistline” or “summer body” programs. Fuck off.
Instagram is still pretty minimal. The ads are high-end and easy to avoid. Wonder how long that will last?
I don’t pretend to know the nutria-press business model. I suspect it’s built on a pyramid of something worth very little. As we’ve known for many a year, clicks do not = sales. Sales = sales. Also, internet inhabitants are pretty good at abandoning one cluttered, increasingly useless ship for a more helpful one. Facebook has so far bucked this trend, but sooner or later it will die and go to
that social media outlet in the sky some obscure server somewhere.
I don’t have the answer. I realized recently, after wading into the comment fray on a Huffpost video that bugged me, that I was totally suckered. The video, a radical feminist think-piece (I use that word with some trepidation) was designed to piss EVERYONE off. So I got lots of likes, some “go you” comments, and some incoherent but virulent attacks. Blah. And I said to myself, “You know, self, you walked right into that one.” But I could also say, “Well, self, that makes you human because that video was designed to suck you in. You have not yet reached enlightenment.”
*I propagate the crap out of my political/social beliefs, but I generally relegate them to my blog FB Page so the more conservative of my peeps are not spammed into oblivion by my stuff. My main FB feed is for general musing, kid pics, kid humor, whining, and mostly benign stuff. This is a personal decision. It may or may not make me a good FB citizen. It doesn’t really help my mental tidy all that much since I’m still reading all that stuff. Re-posting may be a way of expelling the attendant emotions. That would be interesting research. Nerd.
My life has been hella stressful lately. School, money, health – you name it. It’s been a high stress year. One thing I haven’t been tracking until recently is the effect of my interenet use on my stress level. It sneaks up on me. I have this inner dialogue that goes something like this:
Me 1: Wow, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety after browsing Facebook on my phone for ten minutes. Trump. Reproductive rights. Natural disasters. Maybe I need a break.
Me 2: What do you mean? Do you want to be ill-informed? Do you want to willfully choose to ignore the pain of others? That makes you selfish.
Me 1: I guess you’re right. Maybe I’ll try to thin back some of the political stuff I follow in my feed to see if that helps.
Me 2: Wimp.
Me 1: Well, that’s a little better, I guess. Still pretty hard to avoid triggering stuff. Everyone propogages this stuff constantly. And I like to be informed. And who can resist a “Top 5” list or a “You won’t believe…” headline. Apparently not me. And then when I click on something mildly click-baity I end up on a page with horrible brain-burning click bait that hurts my brain.
Me 2: Yeah that’s really annoying.
Me 1: Totally
Me 1: Okay, now that my external stressors are REALLY HIGH, browsing the internet, checking my email (which I do obsessively), Instagram, the “helpful” news feed on my Iphone can instantly trigger the shit out of me. I feel like I’m waiting for “the shoe to drop” – a typical anxiety thing – and the internet provides an endless supply of shoes. Interspersed with funny stuff, cute stuff, and friend stuff. So I gravitate towards it to 1) confirm my anxiety and keep it going, and 2) to connect with other people.
Me 2: Wimp? Maybe not. Maybe we need a fricking break. Does that makes us weak?
Me 1: Who freaking cares?
Me 2: Good point.
So I did that thing. I spent three ish days with minimal internet. It got progressively harder. I’m back to checking my email several times a day and cautiously checking FB to see if anyone has said anything to me or tagged me (they have). Balance is certainly going to be key. Discoveries:
- Accidentally swipe right on your iPhone and prepare to be bombarded with “Texas woman shoots two daughters”. Fuck. Me. No wonder I’m so triggered all the time. Because I’m reading this crap all. The. Time. I have to figure out how to turn off the news feed.
- The Weather.com app is also less fun than I realized. “Hundreds dead in horrible painful awful flood!” With video! Flashy ads for fictitious loans. Maybe I need to go back to the more benign apple weather app.
- My anxiety is WAY lower when I’m not constantly bombarding it with crap. And checking my email to see if there’s any bad news. And checking the weather, sadly.
- I’m making an effort to reconnect with paper books. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of the ones I can read digitally for free (library) but I have tons of non-fiction that I can peruse at my leisure. That’s been good.
- I’ve also started keeping a written journal, which is weird because my handwriting is TERRIBLE. Unless I write really slow. So I’m writing really slow. And drawing pictures.
- Analog is not so bad. I think I started to slip today because I felt lonely. Because I’m alone a lot of the time. I can just feel it when I’m not bombarded with low level social input.
I give you, the weather. Or something.
This comes at an odd time, since I’m doing a positive psychology for the internet kind of thing for my dissertation and major research area. Still, I think maybe I needed more of the big picture. I’ve started reading Turkel’s Alone Together. I assumed that she was an older person with that “get off my lawn” approach to the internet. Not so much. She is more of a baby boomer, but she’s been tracking online culture since the 70s and she’s a psychoanalyst, so kind of up my alley. She makes some good points. This disembodied, scattered feeling can subsume a sense of connection to the physical world. And we are physical beings. I think perhaps there is a time for diving into the dynamic, challenging, pluralistic online world, and a time to retreat, reflect, and exist as a physical being. I think we ignore the online world at our peril, but we also ignore the physical world, which is highly impacted by the online world, at our peril.
More to come.