Friday, 22 July 2016

Pokémon Go-See-Our-Monuments

Back in the day, I was a big fan of Pokémon. I couldn't tell you how many hours I spent glued to my GameBoy. It's a phenomenon that's never really died out - almost two decades later my brother spends an equal amount of time glued to his Ninento DS. Now the phenomenon has practically restarted itself with this Pokémon Go app, which allows you to catch Pokémon in "the real world", so to speak. As much as I enjoyed the older games, I can't say I feel compelled to download it and start playing, but I've been reading with interest about the many different incidents that have happened because of the game. Some ridiculous, like people walking into trees because they were too busy looking at their phone, others more serious, such as reports that some people have used the app to facilitate burglaries.

The story which caught my attention the most was on the front page of yesterday's Evening Echo. The game operates by marking local landmarks as hubs. Cork City councillor Kieran McCarthy criticised as "inappropriate" the use of local monuments in this fashion. Quoted in the Echo, Cllr. McCarthy said "It isn't exactly showing respect. There's quite a bit of tragedy surrounding these two monuments and having these colourful creatures on your phone is not appropriate". For anyone unfamiliar with him, Kieran McCarthy is steeped in Cork history, and if you're in or near the city, I highly recommend his walking tour. While I see what he means about the cross between the serious nature of these memorials and the frivolity of the game, I disagree that it's altogether a bad thing.

Too many of our monuments are just walked past, ignored or not even noticed. As I write this I'm sitting on a bench across from the National Monument on Grand Parade and near to the Cenotaph and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial. People walk past them without paying them any attention - in the case of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki memorial, it's so small most people don't even register it.

It's not as if these are the only monuments in Cork, either. The city is littered with monuments, memorials, plaques and signs that herald back to some moment in history. I've lived here all my life and I still come across new ones I hadn't noticed before. No, it's not entirely appropriate for a memorial to people who gave their lives for Irish independence, or victims of a devastating attack, or casualties of war to also be the place where you can catch a Chansey, but I don't think that's what we should be focusing on. My first reaction when I read that story yesterday was to think it was great news - if the game is using monuments as hubs, surely it's brilliant that people are therefore being drawn to them? Sure, like the people who walk into trees, some players won't look up from their phone long enough to learn anything about the monument, but others will. They'll notice the monuments we have, they'll notice what they're about, and they might even notice how there are so very many.

Let's not just condemn this development because it seems frivolous, let's celebrate the fact that our monuments are being used as meeting points, that they'll be noticed and that their meaning will be imparted to, I hope, very many people. After all, history can seem a distant and inaccessible thing too much of the time. The more different and dynamic ways we can find to share it, the better.