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1 Susan Meeker-Lowry on Mar 19, 2010

I have to say, when I read this piece in Orion I just didn’t get it. Perhaps it’s my age (58 this month), but what’s the point of living a fake life online? Even if you can create yourself however you want. Some of my friends on Facebook play these games like Farmville and Cafe World, planting and growing fake crops, cooking fake cakes and wanting me to be a part of it. To me, it’s just a waste of time. I already spend too much time sitting on my butt in front of the computer doing actual writing and other stuff, most (though not all, as witnessed by my participation in these dialogs) of which needs to be done. Playing these kinds of games, creating other unreal worlds? No way. I’d much rather read a book or, now that spring is coming, be outside watching things grow.

2 Giles Slade on Mar 19, 2010

Oh so right. I’m not surprised that Ms Meeker-Lowry doesn’t get this since she is 58. The replacement of human relationships with technological diversions follows a generational curve becoming more intense every 20 or 30 years. (I write about the very American history of technology and loneliness is in the forthcoming issue of the American Interest. The piece will be called ‘Electric Company’).

With urbanization, masses of migrants and immigrants became lonely and bored during their increasing free time. This was seen as a good potential market by the inventors of new entertainments. First came pianolas, silent nickleodeon movie reels, gramophones; later came radio and TV. Each generation became more isolated with the increasing hours spent diverting themselves with electronic entertainments.

Now, in the 21st century, when most Americans no longer have one close friend or confidante, we actually look to our mobile devices as our closest friends. They are like the Transformer ‘Bumblebee’, dedicated robotic protectors with which we increasingly interact for the sake time convenience or pre-conditioning.

I notice that Ms McClelland begins by admitting she was “a little lonely. My roommates had gone out. Tired from work, I didn’t want to read, and we didn’t have cable”.

She is also quite right to observe that no electronic diversion can become a genuine substitute for real human interaction and real human touch:

“My long-distance ex-girlfriend exchanged about eight hundred text messages a month, including many with me, but she still called me almost every night, and still flew a thousand miles to see me as often as she could manage. Second Life is to real life as talking on the phone to your girlfriend is to having her in your arms. Nothing mimics the powerful subtleties and complete and encompassing sensory experience of physical interaction with another person, or of a palm-rustling breeze, obviously. But like e-mail and texting, 3-D web is another virtual presence that makes demands on our actual presence. We already spend so little time with our girlfriends in our arms that Dentyne knows it’s reasonable to remind us to put it on our schedule.”

The unfortunate truth is that prosthetic friendship devices replace real human relationships. For every hour a lover or family member spends online, he or she spends 1/2 hour LESS with the people in his/her immediate environment. Moreover, because life online is much more intense and interesting than your boring co-habitants, most people actually prefer online diversions to the tedium of human company.

Gradually, we are either becoming cyborgs or greatly diminished human beings.

3 Cine O'Donnell on Mar 29, 2010

Much of what we create is to imitate life.  Nothing points out more of the distopia we live in than time and emotion ‘occupiers’ like SL.  I am 28 and I don’t get it.  But, I am beginning to feel that I am what I like to call, neo-Amish.  I have chosen to sit this round of technology out. 

This piece made me realize that, perhaps, in my generation, lonliness and allowing yourself to be lonely, may be the only way you know that you’re still yourself.

4 P. Moss on Mar 30, 2010

Well I’m 24 and I “don’t get it” either. Perhaps there’s nothing to get. These virtual worlds are nothing: a rejection of life for a completely dead world of technology. I grew up with online gaming, wasting hours of my life in the cathode-glow of a monitor on a regular basis. By the way, Second Life is not offering anything new- people have been using online FPS and RPG games as virtual faux-communities since at least the early 90s. One result is an ontogenic brick wall, a hindered maturation of the self that can only occur via real social interaction, and (maybe even more importantly) interaction with the living world of nature. As if this culture hasn’t already produced enough infantile and inept so-called adults… Anyway, I’m sure the poisoned, impoverished, non-white children sorting through the endless mountains of E-waste shit out by idiotic first-world pale-skined technotopians would get a kick out of your online adventures! I hope industrial/ecological collapse sorts it all out soon enough. Long Live Ludd!

5 Frederick G. Rodgers on Apr 03, 2010

Portland, OR I was startled by all four comments and now add my own by way of respect and appreciation.  Please check out Michiko Kakutani’s “Texts Without Context” in the March 21, 2010 NYT!His take on cyberspace and virtual reality, emphasis on alternatives to traditional books, is brave. MK cites Neil Postman’s AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH and James Gleick’s FASTER, to which I’d add Erik Davis and his TECHGNOSIS: myth, magic +mysticism in the age of information, three books I’d urgently recommend to ORION readers.

I’ve said to more than one person that those we see tweeting or headed somewhere with a cell phone clutched to one ear is sending a signal: “Hey, you there, I am in touch with someone, can’t you tell?” Being “social” has changed, and it’s a global change.

Later today, here in The City of Roses,” I will also “...be outside watching things grow. Roses, iris, etc., thirsty for the heavy rain we’ve heard knocking on the roof. Enjoy reality, however fragile it may seem to be. FGR

6 Firmalar on Apr 17, 2010

Portland, OR I was startled by all four comments and now add my own by way of respect and appreciation.  Please check out Michiko Kakutani’s “Texts Without Context” in the March 21, 2010 NYT!His take on cyberspace and virtual reality, emphasis on alternatives to traditional books, is brave. MK cites Neil Postman’s AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH and James Gleick’s FASTER, to which I’d add Erik Davis and his TECHGNOSIS: myth, magic +mysticism in the age of information, three books I’d urgently recommend to ORION readers.

I’ve said to more than one person that those we see tweeting or headed somewhere with a cell phone clutched to one ear is sending a signal: “Hey, you there, I am in touch with someone, can’t you tell?” Being “social” has changed, and it’s a global change.

Later today, here in The City of Roses,” I will also “...be outside watching things grow. Roses, iris, etc., thirsty for the heavy rain we’ve heard knocking on the roof. Enjoy reality, however fragile it may seem to be. FGR

7 Dave on Apr 19, 2010

The SL world seems to be the logical extension of many social trends - toward global interconnections, instantaneous gratifications, rampant multi-tasking, encroaching technological absorption, obsession with novelty, and a pervasive adolescent attitude that anything we wish can and must be possible.

As the real world gets hotter, dirtier, and more dangerous, as ecosystems and communities are sacrificed piece-by-piece for economic profit, as ever-increasing demands on our time limit our ability to engage in solving real problems, as politics becomes progressively more toxic, as we lose the fitness needed to do real physical work… The seductions of virtual worlds will only increase.

Are there benefits? Sure, just like there are “benefits” to television. Virtual worlds can be used in some surprisingly beneficial ways, as the article explains. However, these few counterexamples cannot outweigh the impoverishment of the real world that results from our disengagement with the earth. The medium really is the message, and the message from virtual realities seems to be, “relax, hang out, explore, doodle. Nothing is wrong in your world, as long as you keep staring at the screen.” That message seems incontrovertibly damaging to our real world prospects for sustainability. How will people muster the courage to face real problems when virtual retreat is so accessible?

What does a virtual world add to our increasingly desperate struggle to create a decent place for our children to live? What happens to the techno-addicted when the network crashes for good?

That adults are spending their precious days and energy in what amounts to an highly sophisticated dream world seems a sign that we are heading toward a narrow and dark place. I think of the zombies interacting with virtual families in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. We’re getting close to that dystopian vision. Really!

Thanks for the great article exploring this important and deeply troubling issue.

8 Chelsea Clark on May 04, 2010

“The more sophisticated our online presence becomes, the more compromised our real-life presence; the more present we are there, the less present we can be here.” I agree with Ms. Meeker-Lowry. I don’t get it this. It is not my thing. We are further isolating ourselves from the world. While extra-curricular activities are great, if this consumes your times and this is where you make all your friends, then you are taking your life for granted. Even though these people feel super interconnected with the world, they are isolating themselves from the real world. Maybe that is why some people pay 30 dollars a month. They want an escape. It is interesting that people will pay money each month for waterfront property online. Does this really compare to the real thing? I have to see this if so. But I doubt that it does. Regardless, are people escaping from their 9 to 5s and mediocre salary in order to live the life they’ve always wanted? All I know, is that nature cannot be enjoyed to its full extent on the computer.

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