Staring at phones in the rain once again…

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Once again I was out in the rain walking around a city. Once again I was looking downwards and then up. I was also looking around and navigating through a city I have been to before but only for a meal and on my way to another place. I went there for a blogobar event many months ago. More recently I went through the city on my way to a Via Ferrata near La Chaux De Fond. This time was different. I was meeting people who stare at their mobile phones when walking around city. To many of you this describes what you think is wrong with society. Too many people withdrawing from society, not interacting. This isn’t the case.

These people who met from 10am on a saturday until 1145 before a group picture was taken are ingress players. Ingress as you know from previous posts is a muntiplayer augmented reality game that people play by walking around in the real world. They walk towards buildings, monuments, statues and other sights of interest. As a group, as I wrote about yesterday we had three missions as a group. I only did two of these with the group. One of them required a physical walk up to the castle of Neuchatel and back down the slope. As we walked we saw parts of the city which I had yet to see. The second walk was from the train station down towards the lake side.

This is relevant for two reasons. The first of these is that I am a hiker and in summer I spend my weekends in the mountains. The second is that I have walked around more cities than I can remember. The best way to get to know a city is by walking. You gain a sense of scale. You understand it’s geography and you also see what points of interest are where and how they are connected. Rome is a city which I visited many times alone. I love the city because I love the life style contrast between Geneva and Rome. I also love the city because of it’s history. Where else do you park a car in a basement next to some Roman walls. Where else do you have two Millenia of history so visible?

Ingress today offered me an opportunity to meet with strangers and do activities with them, to see parts of a new city and to have company. So often mobile phones are associated with solitude and isolation. Through this account you may understand that mobile phones and especially smartphones can be inclusive. The conversations that we had through social media have faded as the noise has gone up and this is where social augmented reality games can pick up. They can provide a new opportunity for people to connect.

Next month I plan on going to Firenze for another event. So far over 600 people have signed up. They will come from around Europe and around the world to meet in a beautiful city with a rich cultural history. This will be the backdrop for the game. I look forward to visiting the city once again and meeting new people precisely because of smartphones rather than despite of them.