Here at PornHelp, we like our exercise. Last Sunday, we planned to meet some friends for a run on a popular local running trail. We got there first and soon noticed something amiss. Clustered in groups of two or three were young-ish looking men and women scurrying this way and that on the running path, their phones held at eye level. Many were making excited, clipped comments to each other and grinning. But their eyes never left their phones, even when they nearly collided with joggers and bikers.
What the hell? Were these giggling zombies on some kind of scavenger hunt? Had we stumbled into an obtuse flash mob? Well, almost, as it turns out. This was our first experience with Pokemon GO, the gaming app that is apparently so popular that it is rumored to have overtaken “porn” as the top Google search (temporarily, no doubt).
Yesterday we read this Psychology Today post, which explains what Pokemon GO is, and discusses its potential merits and harms. In the merits category: therapeutic benefits, including help with social anxiety, mood enhancement and physical activity. In the harms camp (aside from blocking running paths): addiction. Another post, which appeared today, also raises the specter of addiction. And then there’s this story about two men who fell off of a cliff while playing Pokemon GO.
Now, we’re not saying the Pokemon GO zombies we encountered were necessarily addicted to the game. We’re hopeless optimists, and as such believe that most people can keep their tech use under control. Most Pokemon GO players will avoid hurting themselves chasing virtual monsters, just as most people will ignore their GPS when it tells them to drive into a lake. That being said, the speed with which experts started warning about addiction, and the fact that some players have already, dramatically, put their safety at risk while playing, are perhaps signs that problematic Pokemon use is something new to monitor. At the least, the Pokemon GO craze might serve as a reminder of the powerful influence digital images can exert over people, particularly those susceptible to obsessive or compulsive behavior.
For our part, however, we are grateful for the Pokemon GO players we (almost) ran into, because their frenetic wandering recalled, for us, our experience of what it was like to live with an internet porn addiction. Here, pacing our running path, were people relying on digital images to “augment” reality while losing awareness of, well, actual reality. Their apparent need to see something occur in a virtual world supplanted the instinct to take care of themselves in the physical one. They were, quite literally, walking in circles chasing ephemeral rewards despite the potentially negative consequences.
Face to face with this uncanny enactment of addiction behavior, we knew what we had to do. We found our friends and, basking in the beautiful weather, we ran.