Tag Archives: Phil Sexton

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing


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A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.


The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to goo.gl/WEplXS to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters (goo.gl/4RKgVR) in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

We’ll see you in Virginia. Even if you won’t be there.


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This year’s NAI National Workshop, the annual event that my employer, the National Association for Interpretation, puts on, promises to be the most social ever. And I’m not just talking about Phil Sexton’s all-night dance-a-thon Friday night after the scholarship auction.

We dipped our toes into the world of social media at last year’s NAI Workshop in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Lots of participants were connected to smart phones and tablets, possibly reading the electronic version of the program guide in iBooks, but probably playing Words With Friends. Others commented on or liked our posts and photos on the NAI Facebook page. (The one time they let me have a microphone, I was supposed to present award recipients, but first I took a photo of the banquet hall full of participants with my iPhone and posted it to the NAI Facebook page. Lots of people tagged themselves in the photo and we all had a good laugh.) And on Twitter, we actively promoted the use of a hash tag, #NAI2011, which most people used to engage in meaningful dialogue, but someone (I won’t say who) used to sling insults:

One of my favorite outcomes of the use of social media last year was that we connected with many people who were not at the actual event. Someone would tweet during a session: “That George Takei is a social media genius. #NAI2011” and someone else who might not have been in the same state would chime in, “I know, right? What is this #NAI2011 of which you speak?” and then someone else who was supposed to be plugging in LCD projectors at the Workshop but who had instead slipped off to a famous diner nearby for a chocolate malted milkshake would tweet, “George Takei IS a social media genius. I’m going to steal that idea and blog about it some day. #NAI2011.” And so the event broke through the physical boundary of the convention center and into the clouds.

At this year’s NAI Workshop in Hampton Virginia, which starts next week, we’re going even further. Of course, we’ll be on Facebook throughout the week, and we’re promoting a hash tag again, #NAI2012. (You can follow NAI on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NAIinterpret and you can follow Media Platypus at www.twitter.com/MediaPlatypus.) But we’re doing more.

For the first time, we’re making six concurrent sessions available as online webinars, thanks to a partnership with NAI’s Zoos, Wildlife Parks, and Aquaria Section. This means you could be in some exotic place like Australia or Thailand or Ontario, and so long as you had an internet connection and were good at figuring out time zones, you could participate with our event in Virginia. (Learn more about that here.)

Also, we started a new Facebook page just for Workshop participants, which we use to provide detailed information about the event that may not be of interest to all of the roughly 3,000 followers on the main NAI Facebook page. We’ve already posted photos of boxes being shipped, which, let’s be honest, is really only of interest to a small subset of the Facebook population. We cleverly (in my opinion) made the name of this new Facebook page not specific to this year’s event, so come November 18, after the Workshop, we’ll just change the identity over to next year’s event and go about our respective days.

Also this year, a full 10 percent of the concurrent sessions (and an all-day preworkshop session presented by one Phil Sexton) will address social media in some capacity, by far the most ever at an NAI Workshop. You know these sessions will promote the use of social media throughout the week as well.

Finally, one of the ways I know that social media will be promoted at this year’s NAI National Workshop is that I have been tasked with providing a short welcome address the first morning we’re all together. I’ve been specifically banned from talking about the evils of Comic Sans and clip art, and the Phillies have not yet made any significant offseason moves, so I’ll likely have a thing or two about how new media will make this year’s NAI Workshop the greatest ever. And how even if you have another move worth more points, you always want to use the triple-word score if you can on Words With Friends.

They Say I’m Crazy… Crazy, Am I? I’ll Show Them All!


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It was one of those hot August days in California. Hot enough to fry eggs on your iPad. Sunny enough to leave a tan line next to your ear from your phone. Eye Doctors were treating people blinded by the sun’s reflection off of their tablets, and sunglass vendors were running out of non-polarized lenses because the polarized ones made it harder to play Angry Birds on an Android.

Suddenly my pocket vibrated. Good thing my phone was there, or I’d have been worried. It was a new wall post on an NAI Facebook page seen by literally dozens, perhaps scores of Interpreters and bots.

“OK techies– I am looking at you Phil Sexton– Discuss…”

The link was to a Newsweek/Daily Beast article. “Is the Web Driving Us Mad?” at http://goo.gl/CnbVJ. The sender was Kevin Damstra, a person that I have to take seriously. Well, I don’t really have to, but I think he’s got one of the keys to my skeleton closet. Dang you Damstra! Just when I think I’m free of this mysterious obsession, you pull me back.

I looked up to see if passers by were aware of my distress and pained look, but everyone had their faces buried in a screen. Over at a table next to the hot dog stand, two kids were apparently battling each other on their Samsung phones. Mom had called a girlfriend, while Dad was looking for GroupOn deals in the area. Under the Spud Shack sign, a group of young toughs were shooting photos to post on FourSquare. Behind them, a nerd was submitting a Yelp review of the new Skittles color he’d just seen. At another table, sipping a glass of white wine, an elegant looking, smartly dressed woman was reading a novel on her Kindle.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone get run over by a truck. The victim still clutched his phone as he went down. I ran over to him and noticed that he had exceeded the Twitter limit on his final message. Sadly, it never went out. The truck driver finished texting his wife and began blogging about what happened. The guy on the opposite corner finished shooting video and sent it to CNN as an ireport. A couple of minutes later, my CNN newsfeed jingled, and I saw myself in the background of the video, looking confused as the accident played out on my iphone screen.

It’s a brave, weird and scary new world.

In the article that Kevin referenced, journalist Tony Dokoupil lays out a litany of evidence that our increasing use and dependance on the Internet is

  • making us dumber
  • like “electronic cocaine”
  • leads us to detrimental behavior, even when we know it
  • fosters stress, depression and dependence
  • can trigger and exacerbate ADHD and OCD disorders
photo of a blackberry keyboard with worn out keys

Internet addiction or really rough finger tips?

Frankly, I like the “electronic cocaine” analogy. I had a coworker in my previous job who we often referred to as an “electronic hypochondriac” and this was well before mobile devices. In those antiquarian days, he obsessively called both his home and office answering machines, had two pagers if I recall, and had timers on his television and radios so that they would be on for him when he returned home. Oddly enough though, he was a very late adopter of having a computer and internet at home, but I think that was primarily due to his cheapness. I also know someone who actually wore out the keys on a Blackberry due to excessive emailing.

Apparently in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (you’ve got yours, right?) there will be a listing for “Internet Addiction Disorder.” Frankly, the whole article both annoys and kind of scares me. In my heart of hearts, I don’t think that most people are subject to Internet addiction. On the other hand, I come from a family of alcoholics and I choose not to drink.

I’ve also realized that for the past couple of weekends (and this is one reason why you haven’t seen a post of mine for about two weeks; sorry about that!) I’ve sort of shut myself down on social media during the weekends. I’m not sure if I’m trying not to become like Jason Russell, the man who produced the famous KONY 2012 video. Last March, he quite suddenly walked onto a roadway in San Diego, disrobed, acted quite strangely, and was hospitalized with a mental breakdown. One possible reason had to do with the stress of using Social Media and promoting his film via the web to change the world. People following his Twitter feed and online posts report that, before his breakdown, his online presence had become increasingly strange.

But I do know that, while I’ve snuck a look at what my friends have been up to, and when I’ve thought of something particularly funny or clever (at least to me,) I’ve logged on and posted to my Twitter or FB page, it’s been remarkably relaxing to not have to stay up to the moment. On the other hand, it might be because many of my wonderful colleagues spent last weekend on the Northern California coast at Fort Ross, celebrating the Fort’s bicentennial, while I coated my driveway and rebuilt yet another section of my deck in triple digit heat.

Still, this is important. I make part of my living using, talking and writing about Social Media. I’m going to facilitate a session at my professional workshop in November where I’ve vowed to create a super race of social media zombies who will Tweet, Facebook, FourSquare, SCVNGR and Tumblr the hell out of the workshop and blanket everyone with hashtags.

So it would be kind of dumb to contribute to a blog that tells you to log off, so DON’T DO THAT. Plus, nearly anything can become addictive– drugs, alcohol, knitting, chocolate (mmm, chocolate!) picking scabs and emailing silly cat videos, among other things. Some people have addictive personalities, and to me it’s kind of disingenuous to conflate the existence and use of a tool or technology as the latest excuse to villify our society’s warts these days. Most of us certainly do not have an Internet disorder, but many of us are guilty of boorish or insensitive behavior in the ways that we may use these tools, and yes, idiot dude in the checkout line ahead of me, I’m talking to you.

It is important though, to not confuse the medium and tools with the messages, and it’s important to recognize that life can and does go on independently of the Internet. The Internet, my iPad, the weird things that Instagram does to my photos and all the rest are merely tools, just like the ones in my shop. I can use them to create useful and wonderful things, or I can hammer ants and annoy loved ones. For better or worse, the Internet is here, it’s a part of our life, but it isn’t our life. Ultimately it’s how you choose to incorporate it in your daily existence.

Besides, if you really want to know what’s dragging down the world, write me privately and I can tell you what the real cause is! I can’t post it here, but it involves an oil substitute, elevator music, the Phillies, comic sans, and the increasing consumption of tomatoes.