This sounds like it’s about it’s a game, but it’s not. It’s about the way the game exposes a phenomena. So even if you don’t give a crap about Pikachu, please do me a favor and listen.
Anyway: Pokemon Go was released last Wednesday.
I heard about it on Thursday, when pictures of Pikachu sitting in people’s back yards flooded into Twitter.
By Saturday I’d downloaded it and captured Pokemon around downtown Cleveland. We gave a few folks knowing nods, already recognizing the “Pokemon Go hand position” that you hold your cell phone to play.
By Sunday Pokemon Go was making headlines.
By Monday, we went out and found at least eight other people playing Pokemon in our sleepy little burg, and we talked brightly to each other. Wasn’t this weird? It was weird. But cool! We had so much in common!
By Tuesday morning, I heard about clever business people who’d attached lures to the Pokestops in front of their stores, which drew customers. By Tuesday evening, my friend Eric told me he was researching whether he could place Lures at his conventions.
By Wednesday, we went down to the mall and Pokemon Go was no longer an unusual activity. Everyone was there to play Pokemon Go – the people who didn’t have their phones out and the by-now-mandatory recharge cord sticking out of their pocket were the exception. And the friendly nods of Monday had been replaced by shrugs, because this was no longer cool or interesting, it was just what we did.
Now check that out: Seven days, and we’d gone from “Never heard of it” to “Everyone is doing it.” But it got worse.
By Thursday, we expected all the business Pokestops to have lures. That was just standard practice. Hillary Clinton was already making Pokemon Go jokes in that hesitating way the elderly discuss “the Facebook.”
By Friday morning, my feed was clogged with Pokemon Go thinkpieces asking, “Haven’t we had enough Pokemon Go?”
Nine days, and we had crested a complete wave from “This thing has never existed” to “This thing is so big that Presidential candidates feel the urge to reference it” to significant chunks of the population saying “God, this is played.”
I have a friend who’s in the hospital right now; she had a brain bleed last Thursday night, went into the hospital on Friday. She’s okay, thankfully, but I can’t stop thinking that this is some parody version of Rick Grimes waking up in his hospital on The Walking Dead – arising from her coma to go, “Wait, when did Pokemon Go become just something that people did?”
And ya know, if you’re in the hospital for brain problems, waking to find everyone casually doing something you didn’t remember last week has to be a little worrisome.
When I grew up – which was, admittedly, in the dinosaur days before the Internet – nationwide crazes took months to catch on. Star Wars was as big as it gets, but it had a premiere in May of 1977 – a well-attended premiere – but then word of mouth moved slowly in those days, as did theaters. Star Wars, like every nation-changing phenomenon, was a glacial juggernaut, because movies often stayed in theaters for three to six months at a time with filled houses, drawing in people who’d never see it via Bittorrent or DVD or HBO.
I try to imagine the new Ghostbusters still drawing crowds to theaters in November, and it’s never going to happen. Even if it’s the best movie ever, people rush out to see them quickly and then they fade. There’s a speed that gets us out there.
We’ve sped up. Which is fine for entertainment. Hey, Pokemon Go speeds are fine for videogames and movies and phone-booth-stuffing and whatever other trivial things we feel like whipping out.
But then we expect everyone to live at Pokemon Go speeds, and that’s pretty much inhuman.
I’ve seen major chains get yelled at because some store of theirs out in Futtbuck, Montana did something intensely sexist/racist/otherwise stupid, and it’s gotten 50,000 Tumblr reshares, and why hasn’t this business done anything about this by now, don’t they care?
And I’m like, “That Tumblr post was posted nine hours ago. At eleven o’clock at night. When people were fucking sleeping. And the people of this company got to their offices, logged into email, started to see something they were just aware of, and now they have to verify this awful thing isn’t some Photoshopped hoax, and get the regional manager out there to interview to see who did what and when, verify who’s responsible, and discuss a legally-correct punitive measure that’s not going to get them sued.”
Not everything acts on Pokemon Go time, and expecting that speed leads to you buying into lies. Because a news that operates at Pokemon Go speed is a news that’s cribbing from whatever source it can get, and that leads to manipulation and horrendous smears that everyone knows, and believes.
Like, you know, the former Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron. If Americans know him, it’s because he’s the guy who fucked a pig. The story broke a few months ago: he was in a frat initiation, and he put his cock in a dead pig’s mouth, and ever since then there’s been a rampant stream of jokes about “This little piggy went to market” and “YOU FUCKED A PIG THE WAY YOU FUCKED BRITAIN WITH BREXIT” and so forth.
Except that never happened. To quote this story:
Then, after a full day of online merriment, something shocking happened. Isabel Oakeshott, the Daily Mail journalist who had co-written the biographywith Lord Ashcroft, a billionaire businessman, went on TV and admitted that she did not know whether her huge, scandalous scoop was even true. Pressed to provide evidence for the sensational claim, Oakeshott admitted she had none.
“We couldn’t get to the bottom of that source’s allegations,” she saidon Channel 4 News. “So we merely reported the account that the source gave us … We don’t say whether we believe it to be true.” In other words, there was no evidence that the prime minister of the United Kingdom had once “inserted a private part of his anatomy” into the mouth of a dead pig – a story reported in dozens of newspapers and repeated in millions of tweets and Facebook updates, which many people presumably still believe to be true today.
Oakeshott went even further to absolve herself of any journalistic responsibility: “It’s up to other people to decide whether they give it any credibility or not,” she concluded. This was not, of course, the first time that outlandish claims were published on the basis of flimsy evidence, but this was an unusually brazen defence. It seemed that journalists were no longer required to believe their own stories to be true, nor, apparently, did they need to provide evidence. Instead it was up to the reader – who does not even know the identity of the source – to make up their own mind. But based on what? Gut instinct, intuition, mood?
In other words, she took an unsourced allegation, gave it to the Internet, and the Internet moved at Pokemon Go speed. Was it true? We didn’t have time to investigate, or fact-check; someone said it was true, and so we went with it.
Hell, I said it was true. Why? Because newspapers were reporting it. I assumed, foolishly, that newspapers wouldn’t report something that was false – but I forgot how Pokemon Go speed is warping business models.
Because if everyone else on the Internet is saying something and you, the news source, are not confirming or denying it until you’ve determined whether it’s true, then you’re missing out on the precious clicks that fuel your coffers. So you compromise. You post a piece saying that “Everyone’s saying” this, the lie that Donald Trump slithers by on, and don’t bother to say in big letters that THIS IS UNCONFIRMED because the story is not whether he actually fucked a pig, the story is the allegations of him fucking a pig, but for some strange and ephemeral reason the words fucking a pig are the ones that stick in people’s minds.
If the truth comes out later, well, the fact that someone didn’t fuck a pig is way less interesting, so that never grabs people.
And we have rushed, with great speed, to a false conclusion, and never looked back.
The problem is that speed – or, rather, the assumption that this speed is necessary. When Nice was bombed last night, we had thousands of folks on Twitter demanding to know what was happening by the minute, making crazy predictions about who did this before the last dying heart had stopped beating, everyone grabbing their hoary old stories of why these terrorists had attacked and tacking on their preferred narrative before a single fact could enter.
And I repeat: Pokemon Go speeds are fun. It was super-fun to go down to the mall and find a group of people doing something unique in human history. It’s fun to watch this story spread, and mutate, and see all the weird things Augmented Reality encourages humans to do when it’s mashed with actual, you know, reality.
But actual news cannot, and should not, move at Pokemon Go speed. Sometimes good investigations take months of careful digging to get out the facts, cultivating news sources, discarding false leads, determining the story is bigger than this immediate scoop – the movie Spotlight has an excellent analysis of why a big story may not break at Pokemon Go speeds.
And I understand that news agencies can’t not report, because ultimately their primary goal is report what people want to hear, not what people need to hear – otherwise, they go broke, for all their lofty aspirations to responsibility – but I wish that news sources would draw a distinction. To say “This is Pokemon Go-sped news, you should probably take it with about 80% skepticism, we’re going to deliver the real news in a week when we’ve had the chance to interview people, so chomp down on these news Cheetos until we can deliver you the rich, nutritious meal you deserve.” And they’d repeat that every fifteen minutes, and put it at a big block at the top of every Pokemon Go-sped news page.
But they won’t. Why? Because you want your news at Pokemon Go speeds, just like you want your justice delivered at Pokemon Go speeds, just like you want your outrage delivered at Pokemon Go speeds.
And what I am suggesting – no, actually, I’m telling you – is that as long as you’re demanding people act at Pokemon Go speeds, you’re also demanding they rush to unwise conclusions based on sketchy facts perpetrated by unknown sources.
Wait a little.
Stop thinking you should get everything at convenience speed.