The most frightening aspect of the herds of immersed Pokemon GO players walking through crowded streets with their eyes glued to the screens of their smartphone isn't the fanaticism, but the precedent.
Despite being frequently dubbed as being an 'augmented reality' game Pokemon is actually only a 'light' version of what's to come, augmenting the cyber space with elements from reality. But it does represent a significant shift. As Dr. Raian Ali, an expert in Engineering of Social Informatics and Addiction Aware Technology, said: "We are witnessing an era where the cyber space is starting to take the lead and, indeed, host our physical space".
Having our real-world environment supplemented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data may seem revolutionary, but it's nothing new. In fact, we've been viewing our nearby surroundings through a phone for years, taking videos, snapping pics and using location data to 'check in' to any joint that's even remotely interesting.
There are 300 million photos uploaded to Facebook every day, and if that's not enough, there are also 300 million active Instagram users a day and 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. There are 100 million active users on Snapchat every day, 310 million Twitter users, 100 million on Pinterest and 112 million on Flickr. Our social media identity has taken precedent over our own identity, with the caveat that if we don't document something, it didn't happen.
So we're social media obsessed. What's new?
Well, our social lives are increasingly infringing on our real lives, and we're now at the point where we must "choose between capturing moments or viscerally experiencing them as they unfold", said Daniel Gulati, author of Passion & Purpose. Take the last concert you went to. How many photos do you have of the gig, and did you really enjoy it if you were that busy taking photos of the band? What about the last sunset you saw, the last meal out you had or the last time you were reunited with old friends?
It may not seem like a big deal, but it is when you consider, say, children. New research has found that parents are missing out on precious family moments because they're trying to record every moment to ensure they don't get forgotten. Mums spend a huge 40 minutes every day on family holidays behind the camera, taking an average of 24 photos a day of their family while on a break and spending just under two minutes getting each shot right.
Dermot King, managing director of Butlin's, which conducted the study said: "We know there is incredible pressure on families today to share their lives on social media, especially whilst on holiday, and we're as conscious as they are that this eats into their precious family time." The family resort has gone so far as to introduce photographers at three of its resorts to help families have fun while still capturing the best moments of the holiday.
It seems like a dreadful gimmick, doesn't it? But Butlin's may be onto something. Mashable reported in 2015 that more people died from taking selfies than shark attacks, and Disneyland has banned selfie sticks at their theme parks citing safety as a concern.
Safety considerations aside, there is an underlying issue here that needs to be addressed. Are we trading quality family moments just to get a good Instagram? And are we foregoing "living" precious moments just so we can "capture" them for keepsake in our digital vault? Pokemon caused a stir this year by augmenting reality with cyber space, but we have already made the digital leap by living our lives through a camera lens.