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Pokemon, Tesla mishaps show we suck at handling toys

Players get so carried away that cops in the United States are known to advise people not to operate a motor vehicle or bicycle while trying to catch a Pokemon

columns Updated: Jul 15, 2016 09:41 IST
Suveen Sinha
Suveen Sinha
Hindustan Times
Players get so carried away that cops in the United States are known to advise people not to operate a motor vehicle or bicycle while trying to catch a Pokemon(AFP)

On Wednesday, Steven Cary rammed his younger brother’s car into a tree in New York. The 28-year-old came away with a broken ankle and some cuts. But he could have become Pokemon Go’s first casualty. Cary was playing the game while driving.

That raises a profound question: how long did humans really take to realise that fire can burn and kill? It must have taken really long, going by the mounting evidence. As a species, we are not very nimble in realising what’s not good for us, and terrible at handling the new toys we develop. When a new and exciting one turns up, we go so weak in the knees we end up injuring ourselves, or worse.

To be fair, Pokemon Go is unlike any game we have had so far. It’s augmented reality. It requires players to wander through public spaces seeking “pocket monsters” to train and battle. These Pokemons pop up on the phone, but, given the anime-like version of Google Maps that the mobile game app uses, the action feels real and takes place in real places.

Players get so carried away that cops in the United States are known to advise people not to operate a motor vehicle or bicycle while trying to catch a Pokemon, and certainly not trespass on others’ property. The highway authorities there are more direct in their warning: “Eyes up, Poke Balls down, people.”

In the US, Australia, and New Zealand, the three countries where the game can be played competitively, there have been reports of people waking up to find their garden teeming with strangers hunting for Pokemons, and of players going out on a midnight hunt but ending up in a trap laid by armed robbers.

It is anyone’s guess how long this obsession with Pokemon will last. There have been similar obsessions in the past, such as with Angry Birds and FarmVille. No one talks much about them these days. Of course, as Pokemon spreads to other countries, Pokemania will get worse before it gets better.

We should hold our breath as it comes to India. For Indians are particularly bad with new fads. Look at how we handle the simple process of taking selfies.

Thursday’s newspapers reported that a dozen students were washed away trying to take selfies deep in the Kosi river in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. Only10 could be rescued. A month ago, seven drowned in the Ganga, near Kanpur, trying to take selfies. According to the Washington Post, India leads the world in selfie-related deaths. Clearly, we cannot handle the mobile phone very well even though we have mastered the art of converting them into bombs and detonators.

The situation is no better when it comes to driving cars and two-wheelers. Government data says 70% of all accidents in India are caused by driver’s fault. We have been pressuring carmakers to put more and more safety equipment in their vehicles. We also spend extra money on buying higher variants of cars for their safety features. Then we do zilch with it.

A minister died two years ago because, when his car was hit by another, his body lurched forward and his spine broke. Had he been wearing the seat belt, he may have come out with just the abrasion on the nose, the only sign of injury on his body. But the concept of wearing seat belts in the rear seat does not exist here. Those in the front seats wear it only for the fear of challan.

Two-wheeler riders are worse. They carry entire families on the pillion, take their helmets off as soon as they cross Delhi’s border into Noida or Ghaziabad, and start riding on the pavement at the first sign of traffic congestion.

To be fair, though, this rant must not be confined to Indians. Joshua D. Brown, who became the first to die in a crash involving a car in self-driving mode, in Florida, died watching a Harry Potter Movie, according to the driver of the truck that hit Brown’s Tesla Model S. “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Frank Baressi, the truck driver, told The Associated Press, though he admitted he did not see the movie, only heard it.

Tesla is very clear that its Autopilot system is meant only to assist drivers, not replace them, and that the drivers should be vigilant and keep their hands on the wheel at all times. But one still wonders why Tesla could not have called its system something other than “Autopilot”. Maybe we, as a race, are not inept at handling the toys we make, but also at our own language.

First Published: Jul 15, 2016 08:45 IST