Pokemon Go: The Gateway Drug to Nature + Citizen Science
I first caught wind of this phenomenon via a facebook post by Andrew David Thaler, a scientist and science communicator, along with an article posted by the LA Times. Since I started writing my blog, other articles have emerged too, via the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and many more. App users have been tweeting and posting on Instagram about the real animals and plants that they’ve been photographing along with their Pokemon, or even sometimes mistaking the real animals for pokemon altogether:
Kids who become well-versed in where to find pokemon based on their individual traits, like what makes them rock-type or water-type for example, could very easily be encouraged to try and discover what species with what adaptations live in their backyard, versus what they might find in a pond or in the city. This might not seem like much, but in a world where people are nature-blind, suffering from “nature deficit disorder”, basic identification skills and development of an understanding of the living things around us is in dire need. Pokemon GO might be enough of a spark to kindle some interest in these skills that are being lost, and train a new generation of scientists and naturalists.
I suppose I am a bit more of an optimist about that possibility, given that there’s been a study published in Science in 2002 that talked about kids ability to identify pokemon more than actual species… but that’s where science communicators come in! With some creativity, we can guide pokemon GO players to other outlets for their gleefully obsessive hunts for creatures.
It always frustrates me that people are so quick to shame people who bring technology, particularly cell phones, on excursions into nature. How many different versions of this quotation have you seen?
Nature and technology are not at war with each other - you don’t have to choose one or the other. Taking your cell phone with you on a walk in the woods does not mean that you are necessarily getting less out of your experience there. It really comes down to having the capacity to be aware of your surroundings and to allow yourself the chance to explore and be curious about the world around you. Technology apps like Pokemon GO and iNaturalist are tools that we can all use to help us do just that.
I don’t actually have Pokemon Go yet myself. However, as soon as I can play it, I will do so with reckless nature nerd abandon - but while doing so, I’ll also be sure to be adding to my iNaturalist observations too. And I'm not alone in doing so:
These are just a few aps that I am aware of. If I am missing any that fit the above description that you've enjoyed, let me know in the comments and I will add them!
And for a comprehensive list of some citizen science initiatives, check out SciStarter, Zooniverse, or do a quick google search using "citizen science" as your search term, and there will be LOADS. For bird lovers, check out eBird, and for those that love chasing butterflies, there's eButterfly.
Nature/Citizen Science/Field guide apps to play with
- iNaturalist - An app that allows users to contribute data, including photos and identification about the species they find. Even if you have no idea what something is, chances are there's an expert who can help you when they see your submission. There's a network of different apps based on the region you live in - check out this link to find yours.
- Merlin Bird ID - An app that is basically a virtual field guide. Developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, it has calls, photos and an ID key for 400+ North American birds.
- Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas - With so many populations of herps at risk, getting help to keep track of their wherabouts from citizens might be key to helping to conserve these critters. The atlas works like iNaturalist - you can get ID help, submit a sighting, and the data is recorded into a database.
- Sky Map (Android) and (Apple) - The description for this app calls it a planetarium in your phone. If you point it at the sky, it will show you a map of the constellations, galaxies, planets and any other space-related objects in the sky.
- Project Noah - Very similar to iNaturalist, but geared to a less-experienced audience, Project Noah is an app where you upload your photos and observations and the data is collected into a database. There are missions that users can contribute to as well.
- Ontario Wildflowers (Android) and (Apple) - A simple and straightforward guide to help identify wildflowers and other plants - mostly those that can be found in Southern Ontario. There are also apps for other provinces and states - take a look in your app store!
- Dark Sky Meter - Help document the degree of light pollution wherever you are. There are a number of solutions to help mitigate light pollution, but having a detailed dataset to figure out where to target efforts can make those changes easier.
More and more apps are becoming available, with the vast majority free to download. Give them a try, and take advantage of your smartphones and tablets while out in nature!