Friday, August 12, 2016

Perseverance and Joy

Last night I had a vivid dream of meeting a young man whose legs had been amputated due to deformities from birth.  We were in my fictitious dream-land basement, myself, Jaiman, this young man and his brother.  They lived across the street.  The young man was essentially wrapped in a blanket, completely covering his body including his head and face.  He was situated on my sofa like a lump.  

When I sat down next to him, he started kicking my back incessantly.  His brother assured me he was trying to hurt me, he was trying to sit up straight.  I couldn't fathom why his head and face were covered - he had deformities in his legs, so maybe his face is so grotesquely deformed that he keeps it covered up.  But his brother didn't mention anything about his face, just the legs.  It was a puzzle, and I wanted to see his face, but he kept kicking me.  Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and I stood up and faced the sofa.  

Jaiman offered to help the young man, and his brother suggested we put on his "stilts" as he called them, the artificial limbs designed to help the young man walk.  I encouraged Jaiman to sit next to the young man, and we freed one leg in order to attach the artificial limb, and then the other.  All the while, he was kicking, wiggling, moving his legs in a desperate effort to sit up, get up, or run away completely.  It made me sad, but more so, it struck me as almost inhuman, and primitive, the way he kept at it even when there was nobody there to push off against, even when it seemed hopeless.  

The dream skipped what happened next, or I forgot it, but I never did see him walk or see his face.  But later that day, I was peering out my window, and I saw the young man and his mother, playing in their basement, a view only visible to my unique perspective.  The young man's face was no longer covered.  I've heard that the brain is incapable of inventing new human faces in our dreams, so this is why we usually don't see distinct faces, or the brain uses faces we've encountered recently or in the distant past, when we dream.  While I have seen many faces troubled with all sorts of deformities, the young man in my dream took on the face of an autistic child I had known growing up - a child who had been severely picked on in school, but was so incredibly brilliant, he went on to do amazing things in his life.  Dreams are funny things - because they are inventions of your mind so you have a sense of knowing things even when they aren't apparent, and I think sometimes you can even steer them.  In my dream, when I saw his face, the face of the child I once knew (and still keep in touch with), it was as I expected.  Not ugly or terribly deformed, not beautiful either, but troubled, a little wild with thoughts and aspirations, and kind.  

What excited me more, though, in my dream, is not that his face was fine, but what he was doing with his mom.  He was dancing!  It was awkward, and untrained, as you would expect, but he and his mom danced with such fervor, it filled me with happiness and peace just sitting there watching them, a view reserved only for me.  He wasn't dancing like nobody was watching, as the saying goes.  He was dancing like people who loved him were watching.  He had the confidence, knowing that if he started to fall, he would be caught.  He trusted that it didn't matter how silly he looked, he was loved.  And he was exuding joy.  

As dreams often do, it got weird.  I looked to his mom, a heavy-set woman in bright colors and typical mom clothes.  I looked back at him, and he had morphed into a middle-aged woman, like a girlfriend of his mom's, as if they were out at a bar dancing, reliving their 20's.  Then I saw Jaiman was there, and he was dancing too, dancing ridiculously, and he also morphed into a middle-aged woman.  And the three girlfriends danced like it was the last night they could.  They morphed in and out of these forms as I watched, not quite sure what to make of it.  But no matter what form they were in, they exuded joy.  

I thought back to the boy, huddled under covers on my sofa, kicking, and wiggling and trying to get up, and realized that he wasn't trying to sit up, or even to walk.  He wanted to dance.  His perseverance had seemed incomprehensible to me; I had thought of it as primitive.  

My dreams come in all shapes and forms.  I often dream about mundane tasks at work, especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed about how much there is to do.  I wake up from those nights feeling like I've already worked for 8 hours, because in my head, I have.  I have recurring mild nightmares reliving my high school days, being late to band practice, forgetting my shoes, not knowing where my trumpet is, missing the bus that is heading for a competition; those are just strange to me because I was a responsible band member, a section leader 3 of the 4 years, so I really don't know where they come from. Some dreams are just strange concoctions of things I'm involved with (Pokemon being the lasted leisurely activity looped into my dreams) and some dreams I'm a criminal, evading the law.  Some dreams I can only chalk up to being premonitions, their keen, spot-on analysis somehow predicting my immediate future.  

This dream was different from all of those, and not like what I usually dream about.  When I awoke, I drew immediate inspiration from it, believing that this boy came to me in my dreams to show me how lazy I've been, how I need to do better, how I need to keep kicking and fighting.  Life is not just about standing or walking.  It's about joy and love, and finding joy in doing what you love.  It's about dancing, whatever that means to each of us.  I needed to kick up my perseverance to an inhuman level to fight for what I want.  I cannot be dissuaded by the illusion of hopelessness.  Only then can I experience abundant joy like what I saw in the boy's dancing.  

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Future, Brought to You By Pokémon Go

It's just a game, critics say. They're right, too, in the sense that it's not worth going to jail for trespassing or risking life and limb playing it while driving. But this is not the Pokémon from before, and that's where they are wrong.

I jumped on the Pokemon Go bandwagon on day 3, after reading a compelling article about how it's application of Augmented Reality is the first application that nailed it. I called it an instant addiction; I had to go to the library anyways and saw that there were stops there, so I went and collected my first items and Pokémon. I went home, because it was far too hot outside, but found myself anxiously awaiting my boyfriend coming home from work so I could get him (the gamer and former Pokémon player) to download it so we could go play it.  In an ironic turn of events, he had been avoiding it for fear of life-ruining addiction, and I was the one who convinced him to play.  We ended up finding a bunch of Pokemon in the mall, and later joined thousands playing on Mill Ave.

The game has not only gone viral itself, but the virality of it has sprung new Twitter accounts and hilarious memes, new business models (i.e. sponsoring lures to attract customers), new crimes (i.e. using lures to attract victims, then robbing them), and new vocabularies (I read Pokeconomy earlier this week).

From my viewpoint, it's great to finally see an intersection between gaming and physical activity, something the Wii and specifically the Wii Fit seemed to promise but failed to deliver in mass; the games didn't have an addictive nature to them that kept users coming back or using it as their primary exercise. FitBit incorporated a social and competitive element to its otherwise essentially glorified pedometer, but that motivation only goes so far. One of the hilarious memes circulating the Twitterverse early on noted, "It took Michele Obama 8 years to get America active, and Nintendo 2 days." Another

showed a surge in FitBit steps and noted that "My FitBit doesn't know what happened 3 days ago." Increasing activity is always a good thing in my book. But as at least one tweeter pointed out, it seems like a partnership with FitBit and Pokémon Go is inevitable. Maybe not a direct partnership, but it does feel like the game needs to better acknowledge active movement versus driving, and active movement in a small area, so a FitBit - like technology would fit better than the GPS tracking currently used. It's unfortunate that walking around the house or on a treadmill doesn't help my eggs hatch in Pokémon Go.  It's really too dang hot in Phoenix in the summer to exercise outside during "normal hours", so Phoenicians specifically are doing more driving and playing, which is probably not good for anyone but gas companies. We may have a great time come winter here, but I'm not sure the phenomenon will still be a predominant use of leisure time by then.

For as much as the media is raving about the social interaction Pokémon Go encourages, I was a little surprised there was no way to add or see friends in the game. We went to a Pokehunt that first Saturday night, and one of my boyfriend's friends had been there, but we didn't run into him physically, and weren't checking facebook because our screens were dedicated to the game, and so we had no idea until later. Maybe it would be too stalkerish or Big Brother - like, but I think the game should tell you when your friends are nearby (on a permission basis). At the very least, I thought the old Pokémon
had a trading function, yet sitting next to my boyfriend and nephew, the game doesn't acknowledge they are there playing with me, and we can't trade.  We did bump into some people who recognized Jaiman at last night's hunt along Tempe Town Lake (looking for water creatures, a rare find here in the desert), but it still felt more like an exception than part of the phenomenon.

What I think the media has gotten right is the amazing impact the game has had on local and small businesses.  Take my own personal experience, for example.  I've been meaning to try this restaurant just down the street for a while - it's a Scandinavian place, so the food was a little intimidating to me - and it happens to be one of those lucky(?) businesses marked as a Pokestop.  So, when Jaiman and I were debating what to do for lunch one lazy Saturday, I suggested we go there and load up on Pokeballs and other goodies from the stop, while finally trying the place out.  The food was wonderful, we got a lot of balls, and that restaurant got our business for the first time (and probably repeat customers in us).  Later, a specific game store announced it was a stop and was luring Pokemon to the stop, inviting players to come and hang out in the A/C.  I would not have been too excited to go to such a store normally, but I ended up buying a used Wii steering wheel for a good price, something that I've half-heartedly wanted for a long time.  So again, they got business they wouldn't have gotten otherwise, and I got a new toy at a good price.  From the news reports, it appears my anecdotes aren't far from the general idea.  Local businesses are booming in unexpected ways.  And that's just for the existing businesses.
There was definitely a step change in the Pokehunting events we went to that first Saturday compared to the following weekend.  The first Saturday of Pokemon Go, people were out in mass, playing the game.  One week later, people were out in mass, but there were also street vendors peddling Pokemon-styled hats, shirts, and water bottles (hey, we're still in the desert).  People had set up tables and were blasting the audio of the Pokemon shows being displayed on their laptops, I guess to attract Pokemon fans to their table to buy their wares.  While most were looking to turn a profit, one lady was handing out free glow bracelets and necklaces to represent our team colors, and another group was handing out free bottles of water.

A quick search online will show that there are people making all sorts of unauthorized merchandise for Pokemon Go.  The most stand-out one to me were the team decal pre-orders for the Pokemon Go Watch - the watch isn't even out yet and this guy is ready to sell you a pre-order for a decal to go on top of it.  It's brilliant, really, because only time will tell if Pokemon Go will be a big thing in a month or two, so he's trying to capture sales now while it is a big thing.

I've even seen evidence of churches getting in on the Pokecraze, inviting trainers in to play in the A/C.  I'm not sure if any Pokemon trainers will find Christ through this effort, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

One thing is for sure: the world has fundamentally changed in some way.  But to me the nagging question is, what's next?  Between server crashes, some Pokemon trainers spending far too much time hunting and evolving for the rest of us to catch up, and just the nature of fads in general, I really don't see the obsession being sustainable.  Pokemon Go proved that Augmented Reality can be done well - so what other applications of AR could be as appealing?  One blog post suggested AR killed virtual reality by the sheer ease of adoption - I'm not sure I'm convinced of that yet, I just think VR is still early in its life cycle and hasn't found the right applications yet.

Copycat games are an inevitability, if they haven't already started, (I'm already seeing requests going out into the social media world for a Harry Potter version, because, you know, Pokémon isn't nerdy enough for some people in my friends list) but I am confident that straight copycat or even slightly improved ideas won't catch like Pokémon Go. The difference is that Pokémon Go is a disruptor.  But capturing what makes it such a viral disruptor is what is critical for the enterprising thinker looking to capitalize on this technology.

One article I read attributes the virality of Pokemon Go to what the author called FOMO, fear of missing out.  I would agree if, after my first jaunt around the library, I was satisfied that now I know what it is and I can move on with my life.  But that's not what happened.  I was addicted, and couldn't wait for my boyfriend to come home so I could make him download it and start playing with me.  So it may be a FOMO that causes some to start, but the world would be bored with it by now if that was all there was to it.  There's definitely something to the personal victory and elation one feels when catching a rare breed of Pokemon; something akin to bragging rights.  There's also a level of complexity to the game - you can visit stops to get things, including eggs that you have to walk in order to hatch, you can hunt lots of little Pokemon to evolve your bigger ones, and the battling at the gyms is a whole different level. 

I think there's also an appeal that Pokemon Go is good for you - in the sense that it gets you moving about, and exploring your town.  I was a little disturbed that Pokehunting now seems to be a predominant Saturday night activity for Jaiman and I, and was basically too embarrassed to even post about it on facebook.  But the truth is, it's better than sitting on the couch watching TV or playing a game at home, because of the activity level (albeit limited), and it's better than going to a movie because of the (also somewhat limited) social interactions.  It's something we can do together, outdoors, involving physical activity and meeting up with other people.  I think those attributes should trump the nerd factor. 

Here's the question I would pose to trainers: If you weren't looking for Pokemon, what would you want to be looking for?  The answers would most certainly be different for many people.  For some, the answer is finding a girlfriend.  For some, the answer is simply looking for a good conversation.  Some may need help with a project or want to find a partner to work on a startup with.  Some people are new in town and want to know what the cool things to do are.  So I am imagining an sharing economy app that could help link like interests and match people up based on proximity.  Put another way, it could be a AR-based dating app, professional networking app, startup incubating app, educational app, and life list assisting app, all in one.  This essentially would assist or automatically create the serendipity that so often aids us in pursuing our goals normally. 

For example, I am not single so I am not seeking a mate.  But I am interested in learning more about 3D printing applications and the future of the technology, as well as self-driving cars, sustainable energy, personal robotic assistants, and health and diet.  I want to have a great conversation with a smart person, and am especially interested in those topics, but open to others.  I also have on my Life List, among other things, the desires to try pole vaulting, ride a penny-farthing bicycle, and be an extra in a movie.  I am a supply chain expert (with specialization in kanban and SAP implementation), enjoy designing / painting large graphical murals, own a 3D printer, have over 100,000 miles on my electric car, am really good at Microsoft Excel, I know a lot of good hikes and breweries in the area, and am okay at swing dancing.  I walk into a bar and turn my app on, indicating to the AR world that I am open to conversation.  Ideally, the app connects me with someone who knows a lot about 3D printing but doesn't have access to one, or a person who is a track coach and can help me with pole vaulting, and wants to learn about Microsoft Excel.  Maybe there isn't someone who is mutually beneficial to me, but the app may direct someone wanting to know about electric cars my way, or may direct me to the person in the bar who owns a penny-farthing bicycle. 

Maybe some of the services we provide, we would put a price tag on, like's model.  We could also say how much we're willing to pay for something, i.e. I will pay someone $100 to get my 3D printer working.  Having great conversation or seeking a mate are certainly things we would not put a price tag on.  In this way, it's like airbnb or uber, but for more abstract things.

One of the challenges I see is, where airbnb and uber are "sharing" things that are tangible, a living space or a car, and can be rated as such, the quality of work or even the quality of a conversation cannot be judged as objectively.  I think we'd want to have some sort of IQ test for intelligent conversations, samples of work for artists or service providers, and other qualifications.  The other challenge I would worry about is that the app would attract creepers and awkward socialists, much like I saw predominantly at Events and Adventures when I was single and looking for a man.  The kinds of people I would want to socialize would think, "I don't need an app to help me socialize," and wouldn't join, so I would need a way to incentivize them to get good results.  The question, then, is, does enabling goals provide enough incentive for the target people to join? 

This is just one idea of how Pokemon Go could lead the way for innovative new ideas.  I could also imagine brick-and-mortar shopping models getting in on the ideas, as well as health & nutritional applications (eat this, not that).  One thing is for sure, the world has had a paradigm shift in the way we use our phones to interact with the environment around us.