Why Pokémon Go isn’t the dream come true you think it is

Pokémon Go requires the user to give permission to several privacy intrusions: location services, camera usage and data, time zone, and so on. It’s not surprising people are already questioning what Pokémon creator Nintendo will do with this data.

Pokémon Go is everything I ever wanted as a kid. In fact, it’s almost too good to be true.

Yes, I was the kid who went to the video game store on the release date of a new Pokémon game. Yes, I watched the cartoons and the terrible films. Yes, fine, I’ll admit it – I carried my GameBoy around in my backpack at school and I took enormous pride in beating my brother in battle. What can I say? The silly creatures that bark their own names make for one hell of an afternoon’s entertainment.

That statement is likely echoed by thousands of people who have already downloaded the new augmented reality app. The game is so popular it’s about to surpass Twitter in number of daily active users on Android. It’s yet to be officially released in the UK, but it’s already generating a storm of activity in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Pokémon Go takes an ordinary mobile phone and converts it into a window to a fictional world. By turning on their camera, “trainers” can see creatures pop up on their screens, appearing in patches of grass, hospital rooms, table counters, bathtubs, and even frying pans, all depending on where the user walks. Trainers can travel around their city of choice, pausing at sculptures and skyscrapers and storefronts that pose as Pokémon gyms, where they can then fight for the title of The Very Best That No One Ever Was.

 

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The game is already being heralded as a landmark achievement. It’s encouraging people to get outside, to explore their neighborhood! It’s a weight loss device! It’s helping people deal with mental illness! It’s almost as if it’s a miracle – and, in some ways, it really is. It may not be a fantastic game (it’s pretty simplistic, really), but its implications are far-reaching.

That’s because Pokémon Go is only the beginning. Technology is changing – and it’s changing fast.

We might like to joke about augmented reality and self-driving cars and Big Brother-like phone surveillance, but the truth is that these technologies exist. Before long they’ll shape the world as we know it. Remember that the internet started as a government weapon in the Cold War and that some of the first mobile phones were ugly manila-coloured bricks the size of Chipotle burritos. Now practically everyone has a sleek touchscreen device tucked into their pocket. Our whole lives operate around those little buggers.

The more technology changes, and the faster it changes, the more we need to be aware – and ready – for what comes next. I’m not saying prepare for the birth of Skynet, or start puzzling over whether you’ll take the red pill or the blue pill. But do be serious about this simple fact: technology is just as wonderful as it is dangerous.

So, yes, Pokémon Go is my 12-year-old wonderland. But it’s also a very real invention, a very real money-making device, and a very real picture of what questions we should be asking about our tech.

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