Taking A Look

There are no Pokémon in Buenos Aires.

So my roommate tells me. I left for South America just before the Pokémon Go craze took off in the United States. It didn’t arrive in Chile until I was about to go to Argentina. I think I grasp the general idea, but I really don’t have any experience with this phenomenon.

Hopefully this isn’t going to be a rant against Pokémon Go. There’s enough of that going around already.

Café Tortoni is one of the most famous spots in Buenos Aires. It dates back to 1858, and is considered to be an important part of the city’s cultural identity. Once upon a time, it might have been frequented by writers and artists and tastemakers. Now, it’s mostly tourists. The kind of place where you take pictures of the building while waiting in line to get in.

Since I’m a writer now, I decided the wait was worth it. I thought maybe I could absorb the energy of the ghosts of writers past who haunted the place. Or something like that. Also, I wanted a coffee and some churros.

The interior is like being transported back in time. Wood and brass everywhere. Waiters dressed in suits, wearing bowties. There is even an old cash register behind the bar–strategically positioned to mask the presence of a more modern register.

Waiters in South America have, at best, been inattentive. I ended up sitting for half an hour longer than I planned because I couldn’t get my check. But I appreciated the chance to soak in the ambience of my surroundings.

Looking around the room, I couldn’t help but notice how few others were doing the same. Most people were looking down at their phones. One guy was playing Tetris, at a table with three other people. Café Tortoni isn’t cheap, in terms of time and money. It seems odd to me to make that kind of commitment just to play games on a smartphone.

Steve Jobs was a visionary. I have no idea if this was the world he saw when he steered Apple toward the iPhone. That he was able to conjure the idea out of thin air is impressive enough. Jobs’s great gift was his ability to observe his environment and see what wasn’t there. Which is funny when I think about it, since smartphones require us to look down, to take our eyes off the world around us.

Here’s a salute to Apple, Samsung, and the rest of the companies that put these tiny computers in our hands. And to the creators of Pokémon Go, who have captured the precious attention of so many. Count me among the jealous.

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