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Pokémon Go and iNaturalist | Philomathy by Danny Fekete

Pokémon Go and iNaturalist

Santiago Sanchez and Sam McNally: Endless Forms Most Battleful

Santiago Sanchez and Sam McNally: Endless Forms Most Battleful

It’s too soon to tell if Pokémon Go is a transformative, niche-lifestyle-gone-mainstream-because-money phenomenon, or if it will burn out like Furbys and Pogs, but as I dodged past a pair of parallel-playing Poképedestrians this morning, I realized that my easy scorn was hypocrisy: I had merely already satisfied my own urge to collect and catalogue, though on reflection, my way was obviously superior, and therefore I was allowed to be smug again.

I came to smartphones comparatively late, but when I did, I had programmer friends who were patient enough to listen to and discuss my crazy app-building ideas.  I told Byron that what I would love to do would be to turn my phone into a naturalist’s tricorder, so that I could go for walks, snap pictures of weird and unusual wildlife, and then (a) keep a record of what I’d found, (b) identify and learn about it to enrich future walks, and then (c) share with a community of likeminded amateur dorks/furnish usable data to actual researchers in order to make the world better and justify the ridiculously long walks during which I collected these data in the first place.  I’m sure the idea of a Pokédex was at least subconsciously baked in, but the idea nonetheless lay dormant for years.

Then, I discovered citizen science, and my world became lovelier.  The idea of citizen science hearkens back to the amateur observers and the somewhat less formally (academically) stratified experience of the Scientific Revolution in Europe, wherein interested folks with time on their hands, either individually or in societies, began systematically looking at things in nature and then telling each other about their observations.  Before I learned about its modern iteration, this was a discouragingly quaint and antique approach, since “real science” seemed like an act that occurred exclusively in institutional seclusion.  The most recent iteration of citizen science invites enthusiastic (if not necessarily accredited nor strictly qualified) people with Internet-connected smartphones to participate in enterprises of natural history.

iNaturalist is one such enterprise that I’ve been exploring.  It’s an online community that coordinates university- and hobbyist-level observation and data-collection projects through a web interface and a handy app.  The app lets me do exactly what I’d longed to do years ago: it lets me take pictures of weird outdoors things, timestamping and geotagging them, and then invites more informed members of the community to help me figure out what I’ve found.  There’s a thrill, also, to being informed that my datapoint has been adopted into a local group’s project, like the “Spiders of Ontario, Canada.”

Some of my observations!Artfully captured Milkweed Leaf Beetles in Quebec

But, what I find most unexpectedly invigorating is attempting to make the identifications myself.  I obsessively collected Golden Guides from the Ontario Science Centre gift shop as a kid, and while they were only glorified picture books to me then, I’m getting a tremendous kick using them now as field-guides for my photographic specimens.  To bring the hobby further, maybe I could try to find an interesting fact about everything I capture, and develop some proper amateur naturalist cred with which to bore those of my friends naïve enough to join me on my too-long walks…

For the time being, though, I love my real-world Pokédex, and I can humanize for myself the shambling Go players as particularly obsessed fellow-naturalists, albeit collecting and comparing specimens only they can see.

P.S.: This is one of the first images that comes up on a Google search for “pokemon + naturalist.”  I tracked it down to a Threadless clothing design, so to my knowledge, it is entitled “Endless Forms Most Battleful” by Santiago Sanchez.  Nice.

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