Letter: Step away from the smartphone, look around

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I was riding through Bug Light Park in South Portland with my children on a beautiful summer evening; the ocean breeze cooling my skin, sailboats of all sizes leisurely cruising Casco Bay, the loons diving for their dinner. As I got closer to Bug Light, I started to ride past a crowd of people sitting on the benches and stones, all looking down at their smartphones in an unbreakable gaze. I was amazed at the sheer number of people doing this at once; I counted 24. I heard murmurs among the small groups talking about the different types of Pokemon they were catching or had caught. I looked at my children, and I couldn’t help but feel extremely disturbed. I don’t want this to be normal, accepted behavior.

We need to encourage the people we know who are transfixed by technology, including Pokemon GO players, to put the phones down and look up. There is so much out there in the real world to experience. To the people at Bug Light, I encourage you to say hello to the person next to you. Search the types of birds swimming in the bay, or what the name of that island is across the way. Once you find the answer, put the phone down, sense everything around you, and just stare into the distance. I guarantee you will find something far more important than a Bulbasaur.

Chris Kessler
South Portland 

  • Chew H Bird

    While I agree with you that distraction from reality into a virtual world is dismaying, wanting other people to act as you want can also be problematic…

  • I’d encourage you to take a longer look next time. I’m part of the Portland Maine Pokémon Go community and when I was there at night, listening to the conversations over the digital glow you could hear people of different ages talking civilly with strangers, evidenced by prefixes of “what was your name again?” and folks were spotting constellations as well as pokemon. It was tranquil, civil, intimate, and in public space rather than a facebook wall.

    Theres a reason people like to congregate there and it isn’t just about the game. Especially for those with social anxiety where even making eye contact becomes fear-inducing.. having a shared experience and something to fiddle with even in the form of a device becomes a chaperone for making real connections with other people. It’s a gateway drug back to an experience that perhaps older folks take for granted but was ripped away from a lot of young and old alike as interior spaces took over public ones.

    Yes, the interface of the game is crude, but it allows something, a re-enchantment of the world and a reawakening of spatial awareness that has been majorly stunted.. players might not seem spatially aware staring at a screen but I guarantee this is teaching so many folks how to navigate their city that could never connect the dots between car trips before, and that knowledge will stay long after the game dies. For some of those who you write off in your letter, their nights spent at the light will become cherished memories of people and place, not just a game, no matter how it looks to an outsider. We should allow people to use public spaces in all kinds of ways, not just the ones we think are best.

    • Jennifer Dubay

      I totally agree!! And this is even though Chris is one of my best friends!!! Here rhat, Chris? 😉 :D. And I would add that this wonderful technology has also provided the benefit of just getting people out in the fresh air, and exercising, walking, etc, who might not have otherwise been doing so!! 🙂