Saturday, 23 July 2016

Pokémon GO & Why 16-Year-Olds Should Have the Vote

Pokemon GO

I've managed to avoid the Pokémon GO craze so far. I know full well that the moment I start playing it will be the moment I'm hooked, so I'm delaying that moment for as long as possible.

If you ask the media, it seems everyone is playing Pokémon GO. In fact, so many people are playing it that in some places it has become a new social nuisance. The game encourages players to walk around the environment they are in, which is all well and good until they inadvertently stray into areas where access is prohibited or undesirable, such as shops, public buildings, and even our very own Peterborough Arena, which has asked the company that controls the game to turn it off there in the interests of public safety!

A brief history of augmented reality (AR)

I'm a little too old to have been into Pokémon when the original craze took hold. But Pokémon GO is 'augmented reality' technology, and I'm no stranger to this. I've enjoyed a varied career, most of it in the digital sector (or 'new media' as it was called twenty years ago). My particular area of expertise was disabled people's use of technology. I worked for RNIB for 12 years in this regard. However, from 2006-2010 I worked for a well-known digital agency in London. This is where I encountered AR for the first time. Yes, the technology that has the nation in its grip is actually pretty old, with some claiming that the concept has been around since as early at 1901.

When I was working with AR in around 2009, the technology was already pretty advanced. Many people had iPads by then and were getting very used to using touchscreen technology on their phones as well. However, although AR existed, it had yet to take off. If you're old enough to have had a mobile phone in the 1990s (I am!) you may remember that for a few years mobile phones were available and affordable but few people had them and you could do little with a mobile phone but make expensive phone calls. I remember owning a mobile in the late 1990s, but cancelling my contract a couple of years later. None of my friends had mobiles so owning one seemed pretty pointless! It wasn't until the turn of the millennium, when text messaging suddenly became very popular, that the mobile phone became a must-have. When internet access became available on mobile phones the future of the technology was ensured.

1990s Motorola handset
Now in a museum, my first mobile phone looked like this.
Yes, I am older than dirt.

I remember the company I worked for trialling AR in the travel sector, but failing to find an application for the technology that got enough people excited. Fast-forward to 2016, and the creators of the already phenomenally popular Pokémon brand have cleverly found a used for AR that has set people's imaginations alight. It's called Pokémon GO. If I've lost you, here's a quick explanation. Created by Niantic for Pokémon, Pokémon GO is a free, location-based AR game. Once downloaded onto an iOS or Android mobile device (we don't say mobile 'phone' anymore!), the application uses the device's GPS (global positioning system) and camera to capture, battle and train 'virtual' creatures that appear on the screen as if they are actually there in the real world.

Why has augmented reality suddenly taken off in 2016? The answer lies in another technical term that's been around for a few years: gamification.

For at least the past decade, experts in the future of technology have predicted that when services and products are gamified (i.e. turned into games, with point-scoring, competition and a certain amount of risk-and-reward for taking part) people will rush to use them in their millions. Now - eventually! - this prediction has become our reality. The magic formula has finally been discovered. AR + gamification + Pokémon = critical mass, disruptive innovation and big, big money.

Times change and people change with them

So what's the point of this little history lesson?

I was thinking about all of this today shortly after watching the following video of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas (on my mobile device, of course). Earlier this week, Caroline presented a '10-minute motion' to the House of Commons. The motion called for a different system of voting called 'proportional representation (PR)' (I'll come back to that another time) and also called for the voting age to be reduced to 16 in all UK elections and referenda.

It made me think about how it is that 16-year-olds are embraced by marketing companies and technology companies yet excluded from our political system.

2016's 16 and 17-year-olds are not like the generations that came before them. They have been exposed to always-on global media and marketing messages throughout their whole lives and they, arguably, have a far more sophisticated understanding and awareness of the world than I did at their age (30 years ago).

The 16 and 17-year-olds of today have been marketed to by both scrupulous and unscrupulous companies directly and indirectly from the moment they were born with a degree of intensity that previous generations did not have to endure. Because of this, they are surely more savvy when it comes to making decisions, and more able to analyse and interpret complicated scenarios than their predecessors. They may make mistakes, but they are better equipped with the skills to help them learn from them.

16 and 17-year-olds are able to marry, have children, work and make very big life decisions, and yet they are not allowed to take part in the democratic process that directly affects their futures. It makes no sense to me.

It's time to give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote

The owners and developers of Pokémon GO might very well consider the 16 and 17-year age bracket to be an asset in taking up and promoting the use of their latest product, the success of which can lead to job creation worldwide and further the development and application of the technology into new markets. Many 16 and 17-year-olds have jobs and pay tax. They are consumers, and as a group they have the purchasing power to make companies and technologies thrive or fail. Yet our political system simply doesn't recognise the value of 16-17-year-olds at all. How can that be right?

Change takes time, and radical new ideas can take a while to catch hold. Caroline's motion failed this time, with 74 MPs in support and 81 against, but the issue isn't going to go away and Caroline and other MPs are not going to let the matter rest. Nor should they.

In 2014, Channel 4 asked a sample of 319 people aged 16-24 whether and how they would vote, given the opportunity. 80% said they would vote. Given the voter turnout in our recent City Council Elections in Orton Waterville ward was only 35% of those registered to vote this figure must make you think again about whether younger people should be given the precious right to vote.

How would any of us older folk feel if we were denied the vote on grounds of age? I don't think it makes any sense to ignore or discriminate against 16 and 17-year-olds, especially when they are perceived by technology and marketing companies to be perfectly capable of making informed choices and decisions in their own lives. It seems to me that politics could benefit from a bit of disruptive innovation and lowering the age at which people can vote might just be what's needed.

They've got the ability. They've got the motivation. I trust them. Do you?

Pokemon GO screenshot
Anyone for Pokémon?

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