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Pokemon Go and the End of Culture?

In a little more than a week, Pokemon Go has taken over our country.

Perhaps you’ve recently noticed people doing the Pokemon Go walk, a rather aimless outdoor ambling while having one's face glued to a smartphone. Or you might have come across news articles describing the surprisingly quick adoption of this new game (currently with more users than Twitter!). Or maybe you, like our family, have joined in the craze and are hoping to find a rare Snorlax somewhere in your town. It’s everywhere.

As interesting as this fad might be, I’m at least as fascinated by the many different reactions to it in the media. While some laud it as a good way to get people moving around outdoors (and even meeting neighbors), others seem to view this newfound quest to “catch them all” as a clear sign of the decline of our civilization and the coming of the apocalypse. Commentators complain of how people are now further disconnected from reality, from the beauty and tragedy of life itself.  Columnist Ross Douthat tweeted, “Pokemon Go basically wraps every form of decadence together.”

To me, Pokemon Go is in and of itself benign, and I find criticisms of it to be in general overblown. It can be a fun way for a family to go for a walk and for kids who otherwise stay indoors to go for walks outside. But I suspect the reason the fad has attracted negative attention is that it stands to many as a symbol of what is going wrong in our society. Our ability to think critically and deeply about issues is diminishing as technology distracts us. We invest ourselves increasingly in pseudo-reality: virtual reality, augmented reality, reality TV, and thus turn our attention from reality itself. We are divided by deep differences, such that only trivialities (like pocket monsters) are able to bring us together. This fad, like the current presidential election, acts as a sign to many that things are not going okay in our country.

On this count, I think cultural critics are onto something. It seems to me that we are seeing in our age a kind of cultural decline (whether it’s a trough or a cliff, I of course cannot say), and given the profoundly complex forces causing it, it’s hard to see how this trend will be reversed in the immediate future. While I imagine every generation considers its era to be unusually important, I believe it’s right for us to be concerned by the changes we are seeing.

So what are we as followers of Jesus to do? I believe Tim Keller is pointing us in the right direction when he challenges Christian communities to be a “counterculture for the common good.” Put succinctly, the answer to the weakening bonds and values of society is a stronger church. As we invest ourselves in the body of Christ, and as we allow Jesus to renew us together, we increasingly become formed by a different society, a different culture. And that Spirit-filled culture, when operating rightly, holds out to the world the depth of community and hope-filled reality that it so desperately needs. The way to love the world well begins with Christ enabling us to love each other well.

Of course, that commitment to love each other well, while often hard, can also be a lot of fun.


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