A few weeks ago I finished reading the futuristic gamer novel, “Ready Player One.”
Science fiction isn’t usually my thing. But I was more than a little intrigued after reading the premise. Anything that is going to hearken back to my childhood (read: video games from the 80’s) will, at the very least, get my attention for a few chapters.
Plus, many people on the Twitter had suggested it. So I decided to borrow it from the library (remember those?)
I’m glad I did.
The book takes place in the year 2044. The main character, Wade Watts, is a kid who, along with the rest of Earth’s population, spends almost his entire waking existence “living” in a program called OASIS — a virtual reality scenario where anybody can be anyone, all the while hiding behind an avatar they’ve created.
When the creator of OASIS dies, his last will and testament reveals he has hidden three Easter eggs in the simulation. The first person to find them becomes the lone beneficiary of the creator’s vast sums of wealth, as well as the sole proprietor of OASIS.
And they become the most powerful person in this fictional 2044 world. So you can see the story’s conflict comes from.
But back to the avatars for a second.
The citizens of this Earth spend almost all of their waking moments ensconced in OASIS, roaming the vast network of worlds that have been created as part of this virtual world. At least in this universe, face-to-face conversations with real people have gone the way of personal freedoms. They are practically non-existent. But it seems that they are more comfortable conversing this way.
While reading this book (which I recommend, by the way) I was struck by how closely this resembles today’s world.
I see it on the streets as people nearly run into me with their heads tilted down toward their iPhone.
I see it in meetings as people flip through their Twitter account during a presentation.
I see it in restaurants on dates where the couple is so interested in each other, that they have to tell Facebook everything.
Our generation (and the one hot on our tails) are becoming too comfortable with technology when it comes to advancing their relationships.
And this can only end badly.
Recently, Gizmodo posted an article titled “Facebook Is Making Us Miserable.”
(Go ahead. I’ll wait here while you read it. Done? Good. Let’s move on.)
It encapsulates how sites like Facebook can suck you in for hours, causing you to lose track of time, all the while lowering your self-esteem.
One passage, in particular, stood out:
“Last, there’s a decline of close relationships. Gone are the days where Facebook merely complemented our real-life relationships. Now, Facebook is actually winning share of our core, off-line interactions. One participant summed it up simply: “We Facebook chat instead of meeting up. It’s easier.”
I don’t want to sound like a technophobe, because I’m not. There’s a time and a place for everything.
But how long will it be until we rely solely on Facebook to advance our personal relationships?
Or has it already happened?
But it’s not just Facebook that is ruining our ability to have real, honest-to-goodness conversations.
A recent study shows that a typical teen sends up to 60 text messages a day on their phones. Friends, parents, colleagues…nobody is off-limits when it comes to modern society’s laziest form of communication.
Sure, they’re easy and convenient, but they are also a breeding ground for poor grammar and a deadening of our social skills.
Here’s an experiment to try at home: The next time you’re out with friends, put all of the phones face down in the center of the table and force the first person who checks their phone to pay the bill. If the people you are with aren’t important enough to delay checking your Twitter account, maybe you’re not worthy of their time, either.
It’s harder than you think.
Facebook designers want you to forget that you are using their site when you log in. Rather, they want you to leave your session with the feeling that you just spent time with your friends and families and people you graduated high school who you haven’t actually seen in 12 years. They don’t want you to consciously think that you are actually in Facebook.
Does this sound familiar? It should. I just wrote about it 300 words ago.
Facebook wants to mimic the effects of serotonin – that stuff in the brain that makes you happy.
And if they succeed?
You might as well cancel all of your plans, drop out of society and wear live animals as hats. Because nobody is going to actually see you. Just your Facebook profile.
After all, why would you stop doing something if it makes you happy?