Notes from the Field: Pokémon GO!

The obligatory evidence of being accosted by Pokémon during everyday activities :-)

The obligatory evidence of being accosted by Pokémon during everyday activities 🙂

Those of you who know me, know that I am obsessed with Pokémon (it was even the theme of my Intro to CS class last semester). I’ve blogged about Pokémon before (1 & 2), but now that everybody has bought into my insanity, I feel the need to do it again. Of course, I’m talking about the mobile augmented reality game Pokémon GO!, which has taken the U.S. by storm over the last two weeks.

The general Internet rhetoric regarding the game is a bit extreme (of course): it will kill your children (maybe in the process of arresting them), after robbing them, and stealing all of their data! Or, it will turn your children into monsters who mock the Holocaust or stare at their phones instead of the real world! Also, it may get YOU sued (as a property owner), even if you don’t play it. On the other hand, it could improve people’s health, get them to go outside, make friends, and help them discover and fall in love with their own cities!

I want to share my experience. I’ve been conducting “participatory observation” since the day Pokémon GO! came out: I’ve been playing myself and I’ve been stopping people on the street who are playing and asking them questions. I’ve done this in two cities (4 days in Minneapolis, 4 days in Chicago). Based on this, there are a three points I want to add to the above narrative:

  1. It is probably not doing anything to your children. There may be children playing this game, but I haven’t met any (only anecdotally: one man I met said he DID see one child playing it). All the players I’ve met have been roughly in the 19-35 range. I’m currently doing fieldwork at a middle school and NONE of the children I work with play. My main two main hypotheses for this: the game was aimed at the nostalgia of the older audience (e.g., it only has 1st generation Pokémon), and American children are not allowed to be as independent as Japanese children in exploring outside.
  2. It’s more about spatial computing, than the AR or stepcounts. The augmented reality (AR) is exciting at first and can always be turned on to catch a good photo op, but most experienced players turn it off to make catching Pokémon easier. The step count intervention is actually only a small part of the game and nothing new for Pokémon. What IS new and integral to the game is that everything happens in physical space, on a real map that you must move through to have meaningful encounters. This is positive because it creates opportunities for encounters with strangers, gets you moving, and (most importantly for me) leads to a playful exploration known as a dérive. It is negative when it leads to car accident, arrests, injuries, trespasses, disrespectful behavior, and all the other problems mentioned at the beginning of this post. Do the potential benefits exceed the costs? Each player must decide for themselves.
  3. It is undeniably urban. My drive from Minneapolis to Chicago was a Pokémon desert, with very few spots along the way (though definitely enough quirky points of interest that could have qualified). This is because Pokémon GO! relies on user-generated geographic interest points (borrowed from the game Ingress). One big issue with that (pointed out by my colleagues in a recent publication) is that peer generated geographic data is significantly biased towards urban environments. So, while the download numbers may make it seem like the whole country is playing, it’s really just us city-dwellers.

And now, for a few predictions… (1) Most people will stop playing soon — it’s too repetitive and battery-draining and nostalgia can only get you so far; (2) if you buy a few of these devices when they become available, you will be able to turn a profit reselling them; and (3) Pokémon Sun and Moon will be the best selling Pokémon generation ever. I’ll check in a few months to see how many of these came true!

Have you been playing Pokémon GO!? What is your experience with it? Any stories that run counter to the points I’ve made above?

P.S. Team Mystic is the best team.

Pocket++: Changing Pants to Fit Phones

A very long time ago, I complained that women’s pant pockets are too small for a smartphone. Since then, smartphones have only gotten bigger! Here’s what it looks like when I try to fit my phone in my pocket (that is a regular iPhone 6, not a 6+!):

My phone won't fit in my pocket!

My phone won’t fit in my pocket!

Since then, I’ve created a number of rough prototypes to address this issue and finally came up with a solution that I see as the most efficient way of dealing with it. Namely, change your pockets! Here is what the solution looks like for me:

Now, my phone fits in my pocket!

Now, my phone fits in my pocket!

It fulfills my criteria of being comfortable while both sitting and standing, not being something I have to carry (i.e., a purse), and being easy to access. You can do this yourself if you have a sewing machine (hand-stitching won’t hold up to long-term wear, as I found out). However, the good news is that it’s also really easy to “outsource” the solution. Simple steps:

Measure how much of your phone sticks out and add one inch. That's how much more pocket you will need.

Measure how much of your phone sticks out and add one inch. That’s how much extra pocket you will need to add.

  1. Put the phone in your pocket and measure how much is sticking out with a ruler or tape measure. Add one inch to this amount (for comfort and future phone size increases). Do this for every style of jeans/pants that you want to alter (since pockets seem to vary drastically in size).
  2. Take to a local seamstress to alter. All they need to know if how many inches to extend each pocket (which you should have from step 1). You just need one pocket extended on each pair of pants. Image below shows what the pocket looks like from the inside. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, I recommend Blue Serge (the cost is $10 per pocket, but you could get a bulk discount to $7 if you bring more than two pairs of pants).
A well-sewn pocket is a thing of beauty!

Final outcome. A well-sewn pocket is a thing of beauty!

My favorite thing about this approach is that not only was I able to finally solve my smartphone problem, but that I was also able to support a wonderful seamstress in my local community. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t have a million types of pants and hates carrying a purse, see whether this solution works as well for you as it has for me!

Note: Mini blog post this month as I’m pretty caught up in teaching, an apartment move, and the upcoming wedding. But, I hope to be back in full force in June!

Cross-Cultural Parenting and Technology

My parents had two primary sources for parenting advice: my grandparents and the Dr. Spock book. If you are a parent today, you know that this is no longer the case! Millions of sources in printed literature, online, and in your local community all have opinions on how you should parent! How do parents manage so many diverse opinions? What happens when the values of the parents conflict with their community, with other family members, or even with each other? We thought that cross-cultural families (where the two parents are from different cultures or who are raising their child in a different culture from their own) may have a particularly salient perspective to offer on these important questions.

The idea for this project grew out of a workshop on family technologies. Over the last two years, I’ve had the honor of working with three great collaborators — Sarita Schoenebeck, Shreya Kothaneth, and Liz Bales — to try to understand cross-cultural parenting and to find opportunities for technology to help. All four of us are members of cross-cultural families (in one way or another) and we wanted to learn more about this fascinating phenomenon, so we interviewed parents from 18 cross-cultural families all around the United States. We investigated how these families respond to conflicts while integrating diverse cultural views, as well as how they utilize the wealth of parenting resources available online in navigating their lives. In our upcoming CHI 2016 paper (available as a pre-print here), we share what these parents told us about how these families find and evaluate advice, connect with social support, resolve intra-family tensions, incorporate multicultural practices, and seek out diverse views. But, what I want to share here are three design ideas for new technology that were inspired by these interviews. We think that they may not only be good for cross-cultural families but may help all kinds of families better integrate multiple cultures into everyday life. We show some very preliminary sketches of these ideas below:

Some ideas for new technology inspired by our interviews with cross-cultural families!

Some ideas for new technology inspired by our interviews with cross-cultural families!

For me personally, this project was fascinating because I got to talk to so many interesting families. It was gratifying to think that maybe cross-cultural families could inspire ideas that could help all families and bring us all a little closer. What do you think, would you use any of the ideas we suggested in the paper if we went ahead and built it? Let us know below!