West Lafayette, Indiana - The many places Pokemon Go is taking people is a natural extension of where the mass media has brought society, as well as encouraging a culture of distraction, according to a Purdue University communication expert.
"This is just a deeper level of people staring at their phones and not paying attention to people or the spaces around them," says Glenn Sparks, professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication. "There are benefits as people meet and interact with people they've not interacted with before. And some people are extolling the game's virtues for sending them places in their communities to which they've never been. But, I worry about the incentive to experience the real world around us through augmented reality."
Sparks is an expert in mass media effects and he has studied how communication technologies affect interpersonal relationships.
"Any time there is a new technology it is easy to demonize it and point out its negatives, but it's not that simple," he says. "It's nice to see people getting outdoors and moving, but the concern is how the game suspends people's ability to be in the real physical space."
When technology disrupts people's sense of place, it can affect their behaviors. An example is those who tried to play Pokemon Go in a cemetery or at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"We see how this technology has the ability to transport us to a completely different place and we're oblivious to behaviors around us because technology tends to break down traditional social boundaries of society," Sparks says.
He also says people should be aware of becoming emotionally involved in the game.
"We have this idea of parasocial relationships as we get so involved in personalities and celebrities that it mimics a real relationship," he says. "There is some of that with Pokemon Go, too, as people visually engage with the animals and try to capture them."
Sparks recommends that parents implement rules for children playing Pokemon Go just as they would for TV or smart phone usage, by regulating screen time and being aware of who the kids are interacting with virtually and in person.
"It's not just about getting outside; it's about what you are doing when you are outside," he says.