The Rise of the Machines

Just as, today, we have no living memories of a time before the existence of radio, we will soon live in a world in which no one living experienced growing up in a society without computers. It is for this reason that we must try to examine what we stand to lose and gain, before it is too late. Susan Greenfield and others are right that there is no necessary correlation between technological and moral progress, and that unintended consequences have proliferated from all those leaps humanity has made over the last hundred and even thousands of years. In the past, such losses have barely registered in our daily lives, because those who could tell us about them were long dead. But today, with epochal change taking place on the scale of generations, our past and our future are almost simultaneous—and the joyful, absorbing complexity that games can deliver is also their greatest threat.

Within the virtual worlds we have begun to construct, players can experience the kind of deep, lasting satisfactions that only come from the performance of a complex, sociable and challenging task. Yet such satisfactions will always remain, in a crucial sense, unreal. Whatever skills it teaches and friendships it creates, an eight-hour World of Warcraft session is nevertheless solipsistic like few other activities. Is a descent into precision-engineered narcissism on the cards? I believe not: the ways we are already making and playing games show that to be human is to demand more than this. But the doomsayers are right in one important respect. If we do not learn to balance the new worlds we are building with our living culture, we may lose something of ourselves.

Tom Chatfield, The New Prospect, June 2008

It’s Friday and I think this is the latest I’ve posted since I started this blog almost two years ago so I won’t add much to this quote. Chatfield’s piece is thoughtful and worth reading, even in the end his main point is that people are people and technology won’t change that anytime soon.

Each new media or genre at least since the novel has been met with the same dire warnings about certain doom. Each has been wrong, too, unless you want to blame media for the non-stop violence of the last hundred years or so. Maybe we can link Grand Theft Auto to global warming.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn’t want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so.

I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com.

I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that ‘at’ symbol] writinginthewild.com

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