Friday, July 22, 2016

What I've learned about Pokemon Go and why you should care

Unless you've been living under a rock or have opted out of 21st century technologies and all forms of media, know that there is a game called Pokemon Go that has taken over the free time of people of all ages.

Pokemon Go is a game that can be installed on mobile devices. The game uses the GPS from the device to provide players a view of their real world with an overlay of their game character (avatar) and the items and creatures to interact with. The object of the game is a little complex and it depends on the person playing it what they might say the whole point is - it is either to collect all the Pokemon, to defeat other players in the Pokemon Gyms, or to pass time.

As a 50-something educator, mother of five, and sociologist, I decided it would be short-sighted of me to not invest some time into the game to figure out what the big deal is, what are future implications in society, and how does this translate in the classroom. I received some disapproving glances from friends and strangers, high fives from teenagers, and hugs from my children during my experience as a player.

This article will divulge the basic information I have gleaned as a player and ideas I have for how this information could transfer into either future research or changes in practice, regardless of what line of work you are in. It was not a scientific study, so everything I am about to write is anecdotal, but still worth pondering.

The Players (called Trainers in the game)

The first thing that began to emerge for me were four distinct categories of players:

  1. Teenagers: This was the obvious, and largest group. These kids started playing it because everyone else was playing it and continued because of some motivation that became apparent to them (which I will discuss later in this article).
  2. Older teenagers and young adults: This group doesn't game as much as they used to, but the lure of their childhood favorite game was strong. One day, when my son and I were headed out for a Pokewalk (you have to actually walk, a lot, to play the game fully), he grabbed his old Nintendo DS and put all of his Pokemon games in his pocket (which he had dug out of storage the night before), and played Pokemon on his DS while we drove to where we were walking that day.
  3. Adults who already walk a lot or spend time outdoors: A lure is set out at a Pokestop by a player in order to attract more Pokemon to the area. Lures help all players, not just the person who put it out, so players tend to congregate in those locations. In those locations, I could always find folks who were out walking their dog AND playing Pokemon, or smoking cigarettes because they were not allowed to in the house AND playing Pokemon. I even saw a postman walking his route while playing Pokemon.
  4. Parents: As a mom to five, I realize the extreme surprise that came with the first day a teenager stood up and said "I'm going for a walk." Our large yard has been unused for the last 15 years and trying to get the kids to go for long walks has been out of the question. Last week, my 15 year old walked over 3 miles with me in 100 degree weather without a single complaint. Moms and Dads are seizing the opportunity to reconnect with their children during family Pokehunts.
The Motivations

When I came across groups of people at a lure, I had the opportunity to talk to some. I found that there are different motivations for people who play the game. This is the piece I was really interested in. My burning question was "Why would THIS game take hold of the world so quickly, and how can I leverage that to forecast what it might mean to our future society?" Again, I began to see some distinct motivators that people would sort under:

  1. Playing a game: This is the obvious motivator. We have become a society that doesn't like downtime. Whether we are waiting for an elevator or for a red light to change, we believe we have to be doing something and for some people, a game is that something. Remember Candy Crush?
  2. Collecting things: After playing the game, this is where I have fallen. Even though I feel like I have experienced the game enough to begin to answer my question, I still play a little. There is something in me that must obtain as many Pokemon as I can. I'm a collector of things. It makes sense that would translate into this augmented world. In speaking with others who are playing, I find that the collecting motivation crosses all age groups.
  3. Competition: Along with competition for Pokemon generally, the game includes competition for control of gyms. Defeating and thus controlling a gym doesn't really do a lot - except that everyone who sees the gym while your Pokemon is controlling it sees both your Pokemon and whatever name you've given it and your avatar. There is a little bit of recognition there, although nobody knows who the players really are. For this aspect of the game, players are required to affiliate themselves with one of three "teams". I am Team Mystic (blue) and have been a little amused by some people who first ask me what team I'm on before they will give me tips or answer my questions.
The Misconceptions

Something I didn't set out to observe, but which happened accidentally, was how people who aren't playing Pokemon Go perceive people around them who they believe to be playing. Since the game began, we have all seen increasing numbers of people outside walking and more groups of people walking or lingering in places. We also have seen more people walking while holding a phone in front of their face . . . or have we? I have been asked if I am playing Pokemon Go while I was reading an email in the parking lot of Starbucks and while I was texting my son to remind him to put out the trash as I was waiting in line at the grocery store. These compete strangers who would never have spoken to me otherwise, felt empowered to smugly ask "Are you playing Pokemon?". I have to say I was a little bit offended. I was reminded of how I felt when smart phones first came out and I found them to be the most convenient way for me to take notes when I was listening to a presenter. I was called out in the middle of a presentation for texting during his speech. As all heads turned to look at me, I held up my phone and said "this is all I have for taking notes, would you like me to stop listening to you?"

Another misconception is that it is dangerous to play Pokemon Go. The truth is, it is dangerous to do anything without planning and being aware. If a lure is in a shady part of town and an area that easily hides potential criminals, why would you stop there? Included in the "dangerous" aspect is the misconception that all Pokemon players are so busy watching their phones that they are walking in front of traffic, off cliffs, etc. The truth is, people have been doing stupid things like that since the beginning of time. I would guess the same percentage of people are going to not look both ways before crossing the street playing Pokemon as there would have been reading a book, talking on the telephone, daydreaming, etc. I would still like to share this campy video a nearby Police Department made to warn people of the dangers of not paying attention while playing Pokemon:

Why Should I Care?

Now that I've discussed the observations I've made, I want to say this: It is vitally important that everyone pay attention to Pokemon Go. I'm not saying that everyone needs to play it, but I am saying that everyone needs to be culturally literate enough to understand what the game is and think about what it could mean for our society and for their work. Here are the things it has made me think about:

  1. I don't know if Pokemon Go itself can be sustained. The "new" will wear off eventually and the truth is, the game doesn't have enough to it to keep people enchanted with it. I do understand the power of the corporate world in our society, however, and realize that there are most likely some planned additions/evolutions of the game already written and waiting to be pushed out to eager players. There are things that aren't in the game that surprise me, like the ability to see other players on the map, or request assistance from other players.
  2. Implications for businesses: 
    • Some small businesses, such as restaurants, have already capitalized on the game by setting lures at nearby Pokestops. I wonder how long it will take before businesses have the ability to pay the company to place a Pokestop at their business and even pay a monthly fee to have a continual lure placed there.
    • On the flip side, businesses have already realized potential security issues and nuisances caused by lingering players. Some government facilities experience people trying to convince them to let them through secure areas in order to get to elusive Pokemon. Other businesses complain that people are loitering in their lobbies, taking up space that is meant for paying customers.
    • An interesting development is happening where local governments are hosting Pokemon events. My town is having one next week for three hours in the evening at one of the city parks. There will be lures set at all the Pokestops in the park, vendors, food trucks, and lots of people. This type of event is due to someone stopping the griping about people lingering and figuring out a way to leverage it to their advantage.
  3. Implications for education:
    • When school is back in session, students will be using precious bandwidth to keep their game going. Campuses will need to make plans now for how to handle the extra demand.
    • There is a new divide between teachers who have not become aware of the implications of Pokemon and students who have. I hosted a group of young people from my church last week whose conversation turned to the game. When they started declaring what team they were on, I said "Team Mystic!". There was a pause in the conversation as they all looked at me. One boy said "You play???" and the girl next to me raised her hand and gave me a high-five, as she was also "blue." From then on, I was not an observer in the conversation, I was included in it, even though I didn't talk much. In the classroom, just knowing enough to seem like you care about something your students care about goes a long way toward establishing some cred with the kids, and cred goes a long way toward establishing those very important relationships with them.
    • Wouldn't it be wonderful if our students could get as excited about learning your content as they did about learning how to play this game? I'm not advocating for integrating Pokemon Go into your curriculum, although some teachers and librarians have already figured out how to do so. I'm advocating for you to understand the motivations and how those could translate into your classroom. For example, collecting things seems to be a giant motivator across all groups - coming up with a system in your classroom where students can seek special cards or badges (not just achievement badges) and in the seeking, they learn something new, could begin to turn your classroom into a place where students are eager to seek, wonder, and explore.
  4. Implications for society: For this part, I put on my forecast practitioner hat and begin to wonder, "What does this translate into years down the road?
    • Do we have other games like Pokemon Go that appeal to the MMORPG players of my day? Do these games evolve into a sort of a Second Life experience, which was ahead of its time?
    • Does this move our whole society out of obesity? As people explore their surroundings in a physical and augmented world, does the tendency toward sitting and snacking get lost and we all become healthier? Does this result in a booming outdoor adventure market?
    • Is there an increase in deadly skin cancer as a result of people talking longer walks than they realized and not using sunscreen? (I'm serious)
    • Do technology companies device better batteries that charge on renewable energy sources in our environment or recycle the heat from the phone back into usable power?
    • Does corporate America find this as a new way to control our exposure to products and services and sway our opinions? Do politicians?
    • Do we all wear nifty, lightweight glasses that give us immediate and constant augmentation of our realities?
    • Should I buy stock in Nintendo and Sony as everyone is reminded of their old gaming favorites and flock to buy them again?
    • Do teenagers, who are having a hard time finding jobs with the high number of adults filling the jobs they previously could get, begin selling their services as surrogate players? I can drop my mobile device off in the morning and Tommy can take it and 20 others in his backpack while he is walking all over town, hatching eggs? Occasionally, Tommy sits in a park and captures Pokemon on all the devices, being paid per Pokemon, the rarer, the more expensive.
The list can go on and on. I have not even begun to strategically consider what this means to our future society. This article is a first step in that process.

Have you considered Pokemon Go? What might it mean for your line of work?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

My stab at shabby

The before and after for the project in this post

Today, I'm writing about a lesser-known side of me. Those who are close to me know that I like to craft when I have time, which isn't often, and that I sometimes can see things in objects that others don't see. This usually leads to doubting looks from my husband when I suggest colors or decor for our renovation projects, since he can't see what isn't there yet. Happily, what I see is usually attainable and once there, he can appreciate what I had already known would be.

Which brings me to this blog post. I love to get bargains. Not clothes, not shoes, just stuff. I love nothing more than to find the exact piece I need for an area in my home at a resale shop, antique store, or estate sale. There are stores I shop specifically for the deep discounts on items with sluggish sales. I have a large piece of metal wall art that should have cost me $150 hanging on my wall, merrily reminded me that I only paid 3 bucks for it. This excites me. One of the finds I am excited about was the focus of a project this weekend. I converted a worn-out, neglected sideboard into a piece of furniture I've seen in upscale antique stores for $250 or more. It cost me a total of about $60. This post explains how I did that.

One of my favorite places to visit frequently is Goodwill. Lots of the furniture and decor in my house is from finds there. One day, I happened upon an antique sideboard there. It was so worn out and neglected. It had not been a high-dollar piece in its day, and the laminate on the wood was bubbled and peeling. One of the casters was broken. The finish was scratchy and sticky in places. It looked like someone had kept it on a porch for a long time. The tag said $25. I loaded it up and brought it home.

My husband gave me one of his doubting looks. I assured him it would be fine. This weekend I finally had time to work on it. Here is what I started with:

The sideboard as I purchased it at Goodwill

The inlays on the doors attracted me to the piece and I thought it would make a good project for me to learn how to do the shabby chic style that is so popular.

The first thing I had to do is remove all the hardware. I pulled the casters off and unscrewed the knobs. I also removed the doors and hinges.

Next, my plan was to pull all the laminate that was separating from the wood. The side (shown in the picture) was obviously needing this done. One of the drawers also had very loose laminate. I wasn't sure about the top or the doors - they each had some laminate that had come off, but it seemed like the rest of it was pretty firm. I thought maybe I'd leave them that way to add another dimension of weathering.

However, when I started working on the doors and the top, it became clear that the laminate was going to have to come off. I started searching the internet for the best way to do this and found a recommendation to use acetone to be the most likely. I ran to the store, bought acetone and got back to work.

Most of the laminate came off pretty easily. Unfortunately, the laminate on the doors was very stubborn. The inlays were a part of the laminate, so parts of them came off with the laminate. There was a lot of it that wouldn't budge, even when my hubby used an electric sander.
I really, really wanted this to be a one-day project, so I had to come up with a solution. I figured out that I could turn the doors inside out and put them on opposite sides so that I would have a smooth surface to work with. This leaves my doors looking like this inside of them, which means I will probably need to put decorative contact paper or some kind of fabric or even a laminate inside the doors before I'm completed finished with the project.

After I had removed the laminate, I sanded all of the surfaces. The paint I purchased to use for this project is chalk paint, which was a little expensive, but enabled me to paint directly on the finished surfaces without a lot of prep. The drawer I removed the laminate from still had streaks of laminate on them, but I decided they might add interest to the finished piece
After everything was sanded, it was time to start painting. The process I had decided to do called for two layers of paint. The first layer needs to be the color you hope will show through when you do the weathering. The second layer needs to be the primary color you want the piece to have.

My first coat was in a color called "Nana's Fudge." It is made by Little Billy Goat. It is important that you use some kind of chalk paint for a project like this, and I found Little Billy Goat paint to live up to its promise to paint on without much prep and also to cover up blemishes just due to its texture.

After a coat of "Nana's Fudge"
I noticed after the first coat that the area that had been exposed to weather on the side looked like it was darker. I decided this might also fit into the look I was going for. I only painted one coat of Nana's Fudge.

After that coat had dried, I added just a small amount of vaseline in areas I didn't want the next coat to stick to. This was mostly in light, streaking motions across the drawers, up the sides, and across the top. The idea behind this is that it would make the next layer easier to remove from those places.

Then it was time to do the second coat. This time, I used a color called Tablecloth, also by Little Billy Goat. At first, I was a little distressed that my brush seemed to have one stiff bristle which kept painting lines in this coat. However, after I did this for awhile, and made sure that the strokes went the length of the piece, I realized this was adding another, cool dimension to the paint.
"Weathering" on the top of the piece

"Weathering" on one of the drawers

After that coat had dried, I first took a scraper to the areas that I had put the vaseline, followed by a heavy sanding. The result was even better than I had planned. The fudge color showed through in a manner that looked very natural. I put a little more strength into the sanding along the edges and around the inlay on the top piece of the sideboard.

Lastly, I put reassembled the doors/hinges and added new knobs to the piece. I have to admit, I am not in love with the knobs I chose, but those are something I can easily change. 

Overall, I am very happy with the results. I had a piece that was dark, worn, and overbearing and now I have a piece that is light and comfortable in my bright front room. My family's doubting looks have turned to exclamations of "Wow, that actually looks good!" We will live with the piece for a few days before I apply the matte sealer (also from Little Billy Goat) to finish the project.

What do you think?
The finished piece

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The power of a sign

The last time I was in the hospital with my sister, Bev, was a few months before she died. I had traveled up to see her because it was possible this would be my last chance. She was so weak and weighed only 98 pounds. She couldn't stay awake and when she was awake, she couldn't talk. We couldn't even tell whether she was aware we were there or if she could hear what we were saying.

She could. She let us know as soon as she was strong enough to talk.

One day, before her strength returned, I was standing beside her bed. I was the only one in the room with her and it was one of the moments she was awake-ish. I stood there, looking at her beautiful blue eyes and I just kept thinking her eyes had always been beautiful and still were. "Sweet Bevie," quietly issued from my mouth.

Her right hand, nearest me, lifted from the bed. She wasn't strong enough to raise it - the heel of her palm rested on the mattress. The rest of her hand signed "I love you,"

Today, I added this wind chime to the calm retreat my children created for me for Mother's Day. A beautiful reminder of my sweet sister and her ever present love.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Out There

I am a traveler. On a train called Society that moves me through Life. I was brought onto the train by my parents, who believed it was the safest place for me. As I grew, and tried to run off the train, or even change cars, they would catch me, like any good parent would do, and set me on the seat next to them, shielded from the view of what was “out there.”

When they couldn’t catch me anymore, I spent most of my time in the dining car, where I sat with others like me, peering out the window, talking about a someday when we would be “out there.”
When it came time for me to have children, though, I looked around the dining car and realized there were no families there, so I moved back to the travel car. With my babies on my lap, I pulled the shade on the windows so that the brightness of “out there” would not disturb them, and after a time, I forgot about the window.

One day I woke up from sleeping and remembered the window. I lifted the shade and was overcome. I saw things “out there” I had never noticed before. There were mountains in the distance, a forest past the field. Narrow and overgrown, but visible trails leading away from the tracks, platforms in the sky. The colors and the movement of air and trees were beautiful. I remembered my peers in the dining car and wondered why I never left the train.

I told my children the stories my friends and I used to tell about the great “out there” and they listened – their eyes lit with the excitement of possibility, adventure, and unknown. They scrambled out of my lap, running from window to window, peering out and seeing … but not knowing.

After a time, they came to me, one by one, and said they were moving to the dining car, then one day, they left the dining car and sat on a flat car with no walls or windows. Closing their eyes, feeling the rush of wind, and tossing their arms into the sky, reaching for something they did not know but that they knew was “out there.”

Once in awhile, I go sit on the flat car with them. Usually in the middle, because I miss the security of the enclosed car. They laugh and sing, and dance in the air, but none of us ever get off the train.

I dream of a day when they, or their children, or their children’s children, get off the train. “Out there”, they might be like me and remember the security of the traincar. They may build houses to live in the fields, rather than venturing into the woods, but they will be “out there.” With each generation, children will explore the pathways and one day, one of them will figure out the way to those platforms in the sky.

They will fly.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Water, water, everywhere . . .

I've been out of town on a business trip the last few days. I don't have traveling partners, so in the evenings, I'm finding things to do. There is an IMAX theater across the street located in a museum. They are currently showing, among other things, two shows that I was interested in - Grand Canyon and National Parks. I decided to buy a double-feature ticket and see both of them.

As I watched these documentaries, I found myself very emotional. Part of that emotion was because I feel guilty that my children have not seen the beautiful places I have seen. But part of that emotion was because I found myself wondering if they will ever be able to.

Nature, as many other things on our Earth, has become a commodity. 

I vividly remember one day in 1974 when I was just 9 years old, walking across the bridge that spans the Royal Gorge. It cost my parents $4 for our family to walk across the bridge and back. It was a lot of money to us, especially after my dad had just purchased, without really thinking, an original painting from a very-drunk artists selling his works on the side of the bridge. That vacation, we would barely make it home, literally on fumes and with one quarter remaining in my dad's wallet (enough, he said, for him to walk to a phone booth if we break down to call my granddad). I remember that day so vividly because of the emotion that was packed into it: emotion from fear of the artist who smelled of alcohol; confusion about my mother's stern face as my dad handed over money for the painting; joy at the beautiful sights and thrill of breathlessness as I gazed over the side of the bridge into the deep, deep divide; and a momentous occasion - the resignation of President Nixon, which we had pulled over to listen to on the radio on the way to the gorge.

Fast forward to today and you will see a very different view of the Royal Gorge if you venture there. A private company owns the lease to the land and has run a theme park on both sides of the bridge which requires a person to pay $25 or more just to get in so they can walk on the bridge. There are a couple of places a person who doesn't want to shell out the money can peer at the bridge from afar, but no longer can a family of six toddle their way across the bridge through their poverty.

The Grand Canyon documentary talked about our overuse of water and how it is affecting the Grand Canyon. While watching it, I kept remembering the same trip described above having a quick stop at the Grand Canyon, just at dusk, as we watched the sun set behind the unbelievable canyon. I also kept thinking about what I know about the truth of what is happening to the water in the Grand Canyon and in other places that have depended on the Colorado River over the ages.

The United States became dam happy in the early 20th century, placing hundreds of dams across the country in the name of providing reservoirs of water for areas that had low water supplies. This damming of nature resulted in our neighbors to the south experiencing extreme drought and areas that relied on fishing for their livelihood could not only no longer fish, they also had no drinking water. Some of the dams in the southwest also destroyed history and removed evidence of ancient culture, as ruins and artifacts succumbed to the sudden onslaught of water.

Creation was made in a way that ensured it would always be here. Nature has its own ways of renewing materials and evolving to suit climate change. When we have decided to change those processes, we have chosen to eliminate nature and heritage, and shorten our future.

The real issue, though, is that the general public are either blissfully unaware or intentionally disregarding these truths.

As a society, we don't always choose to be unaware, we have been coerced into it. We blindly allow environmentally-damaging practices to continue and we choose to continue them ourselves.

Nature had a way of ensuring that the salmon population in Alaska would forever provide food to its inhabitants, but we have systematically removed salmon habitat over the last 100 years. The water cycle promises us that we will never run out of water, but we have built dams and processing plants that forever remove water from that cycle in parts of the country that previously had plenty. Why haven't we done as native ancestors did and built along waterways or maintained a nomadic life, following the flow of water or the changing of seasons? Why have we decided that because we can build systems that allow us to live in the desert that we should, in fact, do so?

When this is all gone, will we even wonder if we were responsible?

It isn't too late to do something about it. Dams can be removed. We can choose to live in ways that are friendlier to our environment. We can decide that we will no longer build in harms way but rather in ways that are harmonious with our Earth.

Wake up. See the water leaving us. Lament the loss of wildlife and habitat.  Do just one thing toward ensuring that our descendants will still have nature left to enjoy, and don't have to rely on a movie screen to reveal what once was . . .