Google’s lemmings: Pokémon go where Silicon Valley says
July 24, 2016
An analysis of Ingress and Pokémon Go reveals important truths about corporate control and the ability of our mobile phones to organize our desires.
This article has a clickbaity title but a sobering and concerning point to make. In 2010, Google started up what is now a very important subsidiary, Niantic Inc. Google starts up a lot of companies each year and acquires a great many more, so there is nothing special in this. What is important is that whilst most of us see Google’s acquisition of every “start-up” and endless development of “subsidiary” companies with different names as simply an attempt to completely monopolize the market, the case of Niantic shows us that there is more to the extent of Google’s power.
Six years on from its inception with the launch of its biggest game yet, Pokémon Go, Niantic has hit the headlines and people are finally paying attention to the company, with some apparent leftists even claiming we ought to boycott Pokémon Go. In fact, Niantic have been working on mobile phone psychology and social organization for several years. An analysis of the company’s two big games, Ingress and Pokémon Go, shows us some important truths about the world we are living in, about corporate control and about the ability of our mobile phones to organize our desires.
Niantic developed their first major game, Ingress, in 2011. The game, one of the most important of recent years, is a key ideological tool for Google — one that, unlike Pokémon Go, is little publicized. Ingress has seven million or more players and Ingress tattoos show the degree to which people define themselves by the application. Some players even describe Ingress as a “lifestyle” rather than a “game”. The reader can be forgiven for thinking: “I don’t play it, so why would this apply to me?” But the entertainment coming out of Google via Niantic is in line with Google’s wider project of regulating our movements and experiences of the physical world; unless you don’t use Google or any of its applications, many of which come built-it to our phones and cannot be uninstalled, this applies to you.
Ingress reflects a trend of mobile phone application development (which includes Google Maps and Uber, among other well-known apps) designed to regulate and influence our experience of the city, turning the mobile phone into a new kind of unconscious: an ideological force driving our movements while we remain only semi-aware of what propels us and why we are propelled in the directions we are.
I first considered the importance of mobile phone games to be about a kind of “distraction” — an argument I made in my book and related article in The New Inquiry. Later, when playing Ingress for the first time, I realized there was a lot more to it than this. Ingress, rather than simply distracting us from the city around us, actually trains us to become Google’s perfect citizens. In Ingress, the player moves around the real environment capturing “portals” represented by landmarks, monuments and public art, as well as other less-famous features of the city. The player is required to be within physical range of the “portal” to capture it, so the game constantly tracks the player via GPS. Importantly, it not only monitors where we go, but directs us where it wants us to move.
As such it is very much the counterpart of Google Maps, which is also developing the ability not only to track our movements but to direct them. Of course, Google’s algorithms have long since dictated which restaurants we visit, which cafés we are aware of and which paths we take to get to these destinations. Now though, Google is developing new technology that actually predicts where you will want to go based on the time, your GPS location and your habitual history of movement stored in its infinitely powerful recording system. This, like Ingress, shows us a new pattern emerging in which the mobile phone dictates our paths around the city and encourages us, without realizing it, to develop habitual and repetitious patterns of movement. More importantly still, such applications anticipate our very desires, not so much giving us what we want as determining what we desire.
Here again, the connection with the concept of the unconscious is useful. While some have seen the unconscious as a morass of unregulated desires, followers of Freud and later of Lacanian psychoanalysis have been keen to show precisely how structured the unconscious is by outside forces. Our mobile phones pretend to be about fulfilling our every desire, giving us endless entertainment (games), easy transport (Uber) and instant access to food and drink (OpenRice, JustEat) and even near-instantaneous sex and love (Tindr, Grindr). Yet, what is much scarier than the fact that you can get everything you want via your mobile phone is the possibility that what you want is itself set in motion by the phone.
Into precisely this atmosphere enters Pokémon Go, out just days ago, and already the most significant mobile phone release of 2016. The game is, of course, made by none other than Niantic Labs. A series of hysterical events have already arisen from the ethical minefield that is Pokémon Go. In the case of Ingress, academic study has already been dedicated to the fact that the game has sent young children into unlit city parks at 3am. With Pokémon Go, Australian police have had to respond to a bunch of Pokémon trainers trying to get into a police station to capture the Pokémon within and some people found a dead body instead of a Pokémon. It has already been suggested that Pokémon Go is eventually going to kill someone — and since that article was published someone has crashed into a police car and another has been run-over while hunting Pokemon. But, as with Ingress, it is not the occasional mad story to emerge that should concern us, but the psychological and technological effects of every user’s experience.
As Zero Hedge noted two months ago, the US became an unsustainable service sector-based economy starting in the 1970s onward when service sector employment diverged from manufacturing without a corresponding boost in productivity.
Heres What Pokemon Go is Doing to the US Economy – And Its Not Good 4 Even Alan Greenspan warned that America is “in trouble basically because productivity is dead in the water.”
There are numerous reasons for this plunge in worker-productivity, from perverted incentives not to work to unintended consequences of monetary policy enabling zombies, but perhaps the most critical driver of recent productivity losses is captured by the following data point:
51% of total time spent on the Internet is on mobile devices – in 2015, first time ever mobile is #1 – to make a total of 5.6 hours per day snapchatting, face-booking, and selfying.
So, while every effort can be made by Ivory Tower academics to solve the problem of American worker productivity, perhaps it can be summed up simply as “Put The Smart-Phone Down!”
What Pokemon Go is Doing to the US Economy 12
The problem is that instead of putting away productivity-draining tools, Americans are about to lose several billion more in productive hours.
The reason? This.
Heres What Pokemon Go is Doing to the US Economy – And Its Not Good 4As Zero Hedge reported last week, since Pokemon Go launched last Thursday, has taken America – and the world – by storm.
In fact, the app briefly surpassed “Porn” as the most popular search term on Google.
What Pokemon Go is Doing to the US Economy Furthermore, while we await the first fatality from the game’s zombification of its players, MacRumors reports a couple of incidents related to the game have already begun sprouting up over the past few days, bringing to light a few cautionary tales for everyone delving into the game.
According to media reports, people are getting hurt seeking out Pikachu and fellow Pokémon. They’re also getting a ton of exercise, and occasionally running into trouble.
So how hooked are smartphone owners to Pokémon? Research firm SimilarWeb found some stunning details: for one, Pokemon appears to have already surpassed Tinder in terms of Android Installs.
Heres What Pokemon Go is Doing to the US Economy – And Its Not Good 2It’s not just on installs where Pokémon GO is killing it, on app engagement as well, the app’s usage has been unbelievably high. Over 60% of those who have downloaded the app in the US are using it daily, meaning around 3% of the entire US Android population are users of the app.
This metric, which we refer to as Daily Active Users has put Pokémon GO neck and neck with Twitter, and in a few more days, Pokémon GO will likely have more Daily Active Users than the well-established social network.
Heres What Pokemon Go is Doing to the US Economy – And Its Not Good 1But the most stunning detail is that in terms of Usage Time, Pokemon GO is already taking up an unprecedented amount of time. As of July 8th, the app was being used for an average of 43 minutes, 23 seconds a day, higher than Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Messenger!
Heres What Pokemon Go is Doing to the US Economy – And Its Not Good 3At this rate, Pokemon could soon surpass the undisputed attention hog – Facebook. Recall that according to the NYT, the average amount of time a user spends on Mark Zuckerberg’s social creation is a whopping 50 minutes.
The average time that users spend on Facebook is nearing an hour. That’s more than any other leisure activity surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the exception of watching television programs and movies (an average per day of 2.8 hours). It’s more time than people spend reading (19 minutes); participating in sports or exercise (17 minutes); or social events (four minutes). It’s almost as much time as people spend eating and drinking (1.07 hours).
“When you really think about it, 50 minutes is a tremendous amount of time — it’s huge,” said Ken Sena, a managing director and analyst at Evercore who covers consumer Internet companies. “Usually, when a platform expands its user base, the average time spent goes down, because a lot of new people aren’t that active.”
Pokemon is about to surpass this.
Which begs the question: will all those minutes eat away from Facebook use (clearly a negative for FB stock), or will US worker productivity, already abysmally low, decline even further as far less time and effort is dedicated to productive efforts.
The answer: probably a mixture of both, although we eagerly await to see what “seasonally adjusted” excuses tenured economists come up to justify away that US GDP output continues to decline even more in the coming months and years, and nobody can figure out the reasons why.
In fact, the app briefly surpassed “Porn” as the most popular search term on Google
DrEvil wrote:^^One of the more popular search terms on Google is 'Google'. Yes, people are that stupid. Not to mention all the people who think that Facebook is 'the Internet'.
...a list of the 100 most searched for non-branded keywords on Google, in the United States region.
The list was determined by manually sifting through the most popular search terms overall to find keywords that were not associated with a brand. In addition, we also removed porn-related keywords.
For clarity, the top five most searched overall are “Gmail”, “Craigslist”, “Amazon”, “Yahoo”, and.. “Porn”. None of those are included on this list – because a giant list of navigational brand searches and porn isn’t interesting.
Cordelia » Thu Jul 28, 2016 11:30 am wrote:DrEvil wrote:^^One of the more popular search terms on Google is 'Google'. Yes, people are that stupid. Not to mention all the people who think that Facebook is 'the Internet'.
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I couldn't resist
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