It’s been happening before your very eyes. Yet, you’ve failed to act. You’re both victim and accomplice. Shepherd and sheep. Unfortunately, it might already be too late.
No, this isn’t the script for Tom Cruise’s next Scientology recruitment video. It’s my vision of a future where the virtual world is all-consuming and far more relevant than the real one. Maybe I just don’t believe we’re strong enough to resist a world of endless possibilities, instant gratifications, and candid shots of Britney.
If you haven’t already seen the movie The Matrix, you should. It’s a brilliant meditation on what is, in fact, reality. The film presented two distinct worlds. The first, a virtual one not unlike our own: filled with pleasure, pain, beauty, and Keanu Reeves. The second, a colorless, metallic wasteland where humans struggled to survive (in appalling outfits). This was the organic, or “real” world. In it, most people were plugged into The Matrix, unaware that everything they believed to be real was completely synthetic, like Baked Lay’s.
Facebook, Twitter and other social networks are just embryonic examples of “opt-in” networks that are becoming mandatory through peer pressure. Sure, chat, photo sharing, and Chad Vader videos hardly seem like the tools of insurgency. But for kids, these networks are powerful means of validation. A modern-day clique, a friendship bracelet, or date with a cheerleader. As Heidi Klum would say in her warm, Germanic way, ‘you’re either in, or you’re out.’
Alone these networks would mean little, if other trends weren’t also pointing to this new, Matrixed future. Here are just a few:
- Electronic games are becoming more realistic and far more popular than TV or Rudy Guiliani. It’s a matter of time before you plug them in right into your head…or worse.
- Online relationships have taken precedence and time away from real ones. A 13 year old girl recently killed herself over a breakup with a guy on myspace, who didn’t even exist.
- Text messaging is the preferred form of communication for kids. The phone is always with them, always on, and Verizon never sleeps (and if it it did, they’d charge you a fee for it).
- The web is more popular than TV and becoming the preferred delivery mechanism of music, video and other entertainment.
- Perpetual connectivity isn’t just for kids. Have any friends who cradle their iPhones like limbs? Are you that friend?
- Online is the default medium for socializing, dating, and professional networking. Linkedin, Facebook, Monster, Match.com, Adultfriendfinder.
- Cheap consumer electronics have moved every imaginable type of entertainment into the home, even if that home is on wheels.
- Obesity is technology’s best friend. It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more virtual your life, the less you move. The heavier you get, the less likely you are to disconnect. Your Wii is not a Stairmaster. Yet.
Scared yet? Don’t be. There is a silver lining. Imagine joining a company with a great cafeteria. Then, the company cuts its budget. Suddenly, the food is terrible. You’re on PB&J 4 days a week and miserable. However, someone who just joined the company has none of your history or baggage. His disappointment is minimal because a crappy cafeteria is an assumption; it’s all he’s ever known.
The point is, kids will adapt. You will not. At least, not as well. The young won’t know how things used to be. They won’t be disappointed or unhappy, just different…and perhaps pudgy. Old Charlie Darwin wouldn’t have it any other way.