Welcome to the era of Pokemon Go and moral panic.
Pokemon Go has conquered over the world, and it only took a weekend. After a global rollout on July 6th Niantic‘s augmented reality game Pokemon Go has simultaneously destroyed the online gaming world, rewritten the records for active users and app downloads, and in the process become an internet and social phenomenon. Of course, Pokemon Go’s takeover of our collective consciousness didn’t happen without a few hiccups.
In less than a month Pokemon Go has, according to mainstream media, been responsible for:
- Luring players into unsafe situations
- Parents abandoning their children
- Causing people to break into a zoo
- Traffic accidents
- Falling off a cliff
As I searched for a Snorlax and listened to the noise it started to sound very familiar. This is very reminiscent of the moral panic that surrounded the rapid uptake of social media.
“Any new technology that captures widespread attention is likely to provoke serious hand wringing, if not full-blown panic. When the sewing machine was introduced, there were people who feared the implications that women moving their legs up and down would affect female sexuality. The Walkman music player was viewed as an evil device that would encourage people to disappear into separate worlds, unable to communicate with one another. Technologies are not the only cultural artifacts to prompt these so-called moral panics; new genres of media also cause fearful commentary. Those who created comic books, penny arcades, and rock-and-roll music have been seen as sinister figures bent on seducing children into becoming juvenile delinquents. Novels were believed to threaten women’s morals, a worry that Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary dramatizes brilliantly. Even Socrates is purported to have warned of the dangers of the alphabet and writing, citing implications for memory and the ability to convey truth. These fears are now laughable, but when these technologies or media genres first appeared, they were taken very seriously.”
She explains that we tend to see technology as a dichotomy. “Technological Utopians” assert that technology will solve all our problems and make the world a better place. When that doesn’t happen we react with moral panic, focussing instead on the bad things that are happening and blaming it on the technology. In reality, the dichotomy is false.
Pokemon Go or any technology doesn’t cause any underlying problems. People were robbing each other, getting in car accidents and driving off cliffs long before Pokemon Go and they will be long after that last Pidgie has been captured. Nothing has changed. Blaming technology for what’s happening is a lot easier than addressing complex issues with deep, underlying causes.
By the same token, it’s a lot easier to believe that we can “fix” the issues in our classrooms and schools with technology. It’s just not that simple. Ineffective teaching and learning and outdated curriculum don;t disappear just because a student is holding a tablet.
Let’s avoid technology’s false dichotomy of utopia or panic, and instead focus on the kind of classrooms and learning we need to have to prepare our students to change the world. New technologies, even Pokemon Go, don’t herald the start of a new golden age, nor are they a sure sign of the approaching apocalypse. If we want to know where that comes from, the only technology we need, is a mirror.