I suspect the Pokemon Go trend is going to be one of those things that screams “2016 only” in future nostalgia-based TV shows. It won’t move forward; it’s not some revolutionary new fad. I should be angry with these people, but really, this is nothing more than smartphone obsession reaching its logical conclusion: adults acting like children. You need not wonder what all those people engrossed with their smartphones are doing. They’re playing games, as they have been since 2007, whether something as obvious as Pokemon Go or solitaire, or more sophisticated games like Facebook and Twitter.
Something odd has been happening the past few days: our corner here in Astoria seems to be one of those places where players congregate to collect points, or whatever. (Don’t explain the rules to me, unless you can verify that you’re under 12 years of age.) Thus far, I’ve seen about a dozen people at random times while coming and going from the house. Always guys. Guys in their 20’s. Clearly nerds. For the most part, mild, unassuming guys, not friendly, but in no way threatening, engrossed in their smartphones. It’s driven home to me how relatively inoffensive this game and trend is. Then again, today there was a guy who had a scowl on his face, seemed a bit mangy, and I made it a point of stopping with my groceries after opening the gate and staring at him. He got the picture and left.
I know what this is … but my 80+ year-old landlord upstairs? Who sits in her front room all day watching people pass the front of her house? She hasn’t said anything yet, but I’m waiting for her to call down the stairs, “Ah-Billy, who-ah are these-ah crazy people in-ah front of the house?” She doesn’t know what Pokemon Go is. She barely knows what smartphones are. I suspect she feels vaguely threatened by the strange number of guys in their 20’s sauntering in front of her house for a few minutes with their phones.
So long as they stand around doing their silly thing, I don’t care. I’m hoping not to see anyone make the mistake of sitting on her front steps. I’ll draw the line there with the stock NYC “get the fuck out of here” speech. I gather there are a fair number of imbeciles playing the game who could be graceless enough to conduct themselves this way.
(Sidenote: it occurs to me now that the old trope, "Hey you kids, get off my lawn" applies here. Save the subtext of that message implies that the kids on the lawn are somehow "cool" while the person yelling this has grown old and "uncool." Trust me ... grown-ups playing video games will never be cool. They may as well be standing around out there with the waistbands of their Fruit of the Looms around their necks.)
What do I find troubling about this trend? The simple fact that if you’re a guy in his 20’s, you should be trying to get laid. Above and beyond all else. Or going out for drinks. Or going to the gym. The library. The museum. The movies. A band. Shopping. Going to church even, if thus inclined. Not wandering aimlessly on sidewalks playing a videogame meant for children. Augmented reality? The future? When I read shit like this … the future sounds like a very wrong turn. Unless you’re looking for ways to make money off prepubescent and adolescent males, you should not be concerned with augmented reality. You should be concerned with reality. Or trying to escape it in more interesting ways.
I can’t explain it fully, but the past few years, I’ve felt so disengaged from the overall culture in America. Surely, I always have, but lately it feels like that percentage I have in common with what’s presented to me as “normal” seems to be heading towards single-digit territory in terms of movies, music, literature, art, pop culture, etc. The political climate hasn’t helped, which has taken on vestiges or professional wrestling in terms of how it’s presented to us. Topped off with terrorists hitting their prime in urban areas all over the world, racial bullshit going on in all directions, people carrying semi-automatic weapons at public rallies, etc.
Then again, I’ve described the conditions of how I grew up in the 1970’s: all the negative shit going on at the time in the adult world … while I was having a much more enjoyable time as a kid. Surely at the time, I pretended things were much more rough and complicated in my childhood. It’s the nature of any good writer to look back and recall the reality of a situation as opposed to the nostalgia. But I can look back and see I was a relatively untroubled kid, raised in a reasonable/non-abusive family, made to feel important and intelligent, etc. Nothing special? Maybe not, but I’ve seen the other side of the coin with kids, now adults, who dealt with all sorts of horrible, negative shit as children and how it’s affected them as adults. (And not always negatively: some adults with horrible childhoods take those years as profound instruction as how not to live and what to avoid later in life.)
Maybe it’s just the nature of the world for adults, particularly in their middle age, to feel completely disengaged from society. Which is odd, as that was the vibe I was shooting for as a dislocated young guy in college/in his 20’s/out of college/living in a major city. The vibe exactly: on the outside of all the bullshit. Well, I got news for my younger self: it’s a strange feeling when you find yourself in that position. Advertisers aren’t targeting you. Movies aren’t trying to appeal to you. Popular music is geared to make people feel dead by 30. Nothing’s aimed at you. Save for relentless TV ads for pills to make your dick hard or lower your cholesterol and/or mortgage payments.
I guess the point I’m trying to make to myself here is that it’s pointless to grovel in the overall culture. Because it’s mostly fucked, has little of lasting value, or moral, emotional or spiritual well being to offer. Mostly strange shadows of childhood and that level of self absorption we all felt as the objects of so many things, personal and otherwise. It’s important to look for real things in all that mess. Not virtual reality. Not “augmented” reality via a hand-held device. And if you’re looking to escape reality, do it well. The near-daily aroma of stink-weed I get walking the streets of Manhattan over the past few years … is not doing it well. I don’t take these things as signs of the apocalypse … much more signs of people crawling too far up their own asses. (Which is a nice place to hide, but you have to come out some time.)
Often I’ll go back to my parents when comparing lifestyles, especially the older I get and easily recalling how they were in their 40’s and later in life. In their 20’s? Before 25? Lived through the Depression, which was poverty of the likes I’ve never known, but plenty of people have, before and since. A ragged, hard way to grow up with little hope. Immediately followed by a world war that had a generation war and poverty hardened by the age of 25.
I try to imagine your average 25-year-old war vet in 1945 playing Pokemon Go … and, boy, am I coming up blank! Something like this would have made zero sense in his context, and I’m sure my similar, feigned lack of understanding is my tribute to their well-earned hardness. The truth is from the 60’s onward, every generation has been trained to worship youth at the expense of aging, gracefully or not. We can’t truthfully bitch at this sort of Pokemon Go and smartphone nonsense without recognizing a similar level of self absorption in ourselves. Do I think it’s worse now? Yes, obviously, much worse, and not getting better. But we had that same problem, or at least I know I did, well through my 20’s. I think getting heavy in my 30’s (no thanks to that undiagnosed hypothyroid issue that took years to correct) drove that home for me, that sense of invisibility you grasp when you get overweight in our society. As any homeless person could tell you, there’s comfort in invisibility, until you realize you’re so invisible you could drop dead, and people are going to walk right over you.
I’ve got that Mekons documentary on in the background while I write this. And I guess that’s something good to note, that this band did their own thing and are still doing it, despite never quite making it on that exalted level of say, R.E.M. At one point an interviewer asks them to what they attribute their success, and the band all snicker at each other, knowing that their "success" has been due to their lack of success. Or at least success on the level where they’d be destined to burn out after a few years or tie themselves to a time period that permanently identifies them as such. They’ve succeeded just enough that most people don’t have a clue who they are, but enough so that they can eke out a small existence indefinitely, even if it means most of the band dayjobbing it between tours and recording.
That’s not the romantic rock star lifestyle of yore … but god damn it, they’re still doing it. And I take that to heart. The simple ability to do things that matter to you, and by extension to other people who think like you, like the things you do, have the same interests. That’s what it’s always been about, whatever level you can make it work on. It’s a warm feeling, not invisible, connected on a level far more real than a video game or Twitter feed. That’s the odd thing I’ve noticed about the guys on the sidewalk playing Pokemon: they’re not talking to each other even though they’re feet apart, gathered for the same reason. You would figure that would be a cool starting point to meet like-minded individuals. It seems more like a slightly-less isolated place than the usual complete isolation they experience walking around totally absorbed in their smartphones. An age thing? Buddy, if it's an age thing, as screwed up as I've been at various points in my life, I don't ever recall being so screwed up that I would be this oddly dislocated from a fellow human being two feet away from me engaging in behavior that should be creating a bond between us.
I’m not sure there’s any way you can communicate that to some 27-year-old guy playing Pokemon Go on the sidewalk in front of your house. Then again, it’s a message that won’t make sense to him for another two decades or so.