Friday, March 7, 2014
The Myth of a Virtual World
Being born in 1977 has given me a unique view of the incredible technology changes in the last 30+ years. Up until I was in 3rd or 4th grade we had one 14-inch black and white TV with no cable. I remember visiting some relatives on a trip. They had the game "Pong" - I remember thinking it was pretty cool. My first video game system was an Atari 2600 - pretty much the first gaming system ever.
I could go on and on (I didn't have e-mail until I was in college - I didn't have a cell phone until I was in grad school). So when people hyperventilate about how facebook, twitter, and the internet are dehumanizing everybody and destroying the world - I can remember what it was like before we had any of it.
The Matrix is one of my favorite movies, but it is a great example about how we can exaggerate the problems of the new technological world. It's a dystopian view of a future where humans have become an energy supply for computers. As with most dystopian stories it's more about the present than the future. It was one of many movies during that era that included pale skinned "hackers" who did nothing but sit behind a computer all day. The main anxiety expressed by theses movies, The Matrix in particular, was that humans would choose to live in a virtual world rather than the "real world." The revolution depicted in The Matrix movies is really about humans reasserting that "the real" is preferred to "the virtual" even though ironically the humans have to master an incredible amount of technology in order to be victorious.
Why am I confident that we don't need to worry that we'll ever choose "the virtual" over "the real"? My wife happens to work in the industry of live performances, which given the advances in HD TV and surround sound should have gone the way of the dinosaurs. But her organization does fairly well - even in the middle of the country. If you look at Broadway - the trends are even more astounding. The Book of Mormon has eight performances a week - but if you want a ticket you're looking at a 4-6 month wait.
Running and multi-sport event participation growth has been explosive - even through the recession. Many of us complain about the crazy cost of races - or how we have to log on to our computers to register for a race in the first five minutes it's open in order to get in. Road races have somehow become as popular as rock concerts. Even though that fact is a little disturbing to many of us who just "want to race" without all the insanity - I think it's an overall positive for our society. We are choosing the real over the virtual. I think we're realizing that as great as computers are there are some things they just can't simulate.
Humans interact - it's what we do. All of these technological advancements help us to interact. If they don't help us build real connections with other people than they will most likely go away. If they don't lead to us looking into the eyes of another human - leading us to shaking a hand - or maybe even a hug - these technologies are just instruments. They are not evil or good on their own - it's all how we use them.
So when I see people giving up facebook for Lent - I kind of laugh. Why give up interactions with others? Yes, many people are annoying - but you can just choose to ignore them. Why push away all of humanity? You might miss something important. You might miss the opportunity to make a real connection with another human being, which in the end, may be the only thing that really matters.