What’s Up in the World? - Weekly Digest 15/07/2016 Written by Harriet Lane-Tobin

For this week's digest I am addressing space, spatial relations and the new craze of Pokemon GO. The power of the video games both to pop culture and to urban culture. How it becomes a potent force in altering their mutual understandings. Also giving a nod to the US military and the importance of the silence in enacting social change.

In light of my elevated interest in urban spaces and city dwellers' relationship to them, Bryan Lufkin’s BBC article offers an intriguing analysis. Here Lufkin proposes that the more accessible a city is to those who walk, the more intelligent its inhabitants can be. However ‘we’ must consider if this data is being interpreted in relation to causation or correlation. “Do people who walk more tend to be brighter, harder working, better educated? It's tough to say. One thing is for sure, though: If cities want to be filled with smart people ready to boost the GDP, their better be enough sidewalks to go ‘round.”  (Lufkin 2016)

Pokemon GO. If you haven’t had your life stolen by it already you would have at least heard of the craze sweeping the globe (especially those of us situated in New Zealand who got it first). However this is not just a 90’s throwback; it highlights a shift in technology and a new from of desired reality.  In Om Malik’s piece in The New Yorker he describes its popularity as a craving for augmented reality. “Augmented reality refers to a view of the real-world environment whose elements are overlaid (or augmented) with computer-generated images and sound. It differs from virtual reality, where the real world is replaced by complete immersion in a computer-generated space” (Malik 2016). It does not just function to change reality but also acts as an enabler of expectation, changing the ways we relate to space and also motivating us to explore it. 

Jim Watson/AFP/ Getty Images.

Jim Watson/AFP/ Getty Images.

A theme further highlighted in Dave Schilling’s, Guardian article is that of the game's benefits. He argues that it does not just change ‘our’ relationship to the spaces we explore by promoting new kinds of exercise and knowledge, but that also brings new life to the spaces in our societies otherwise encouraged. “We might not be able to make fast food healthier or discourage the gluttony our culture reveres, but we can make walking less unpleasant. You might not ever be interested in real birds chirping, but at least maybe you can find the pleasure in the siren song of a wild Togepi or Fearow” (Schilling 2016)

A few weeks ago I wrote in this digest the story of Jane*, a transgender, military, airman in the US. Since that post the US military has changed its stance and now has stopped barring transgender soldiers from service. This is an additional leap since it abolished its “don’t ask don't tell” policy in 2011, creating what the author calls an army for everyone. However, this new image of diversity and unity does not necessarily mean it will always hold true. So whilst the military is being praised for changing its stance, one must also look to where it falls short. These issues are highlighted in this article by Whitney Terrell in the New York Times.

Finally, there is something to be said of silence rather than of sound. Hannah Roosenboom’s piece in The Huffington Post details how the power of listening has been lost in western culture. So often ‘we’ are encouraged to speak up and out, but, often the impact of this is lessened. Why? Because this is what the culture is often unanimously promoting: sound. Where our mouths are praised as important and powerful, our ears are being ignored as just as much.  “I truly believe we could go places together — we could change things — if we’d only recover the lost art of listening” (Roosenboom 2016).