Message no. 299[Branch from no. 292] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on
How many of you, as kids, hunkered under the covers with a flashlight at night reading, afraid your parents would burst into the room and discover you hadn't really gone to bed after all? I remember being told "I said lights out, and I was serious!! Now go to sleep!".
I bring this up because it seems to me that the "crisis" we are now facing in society concerning "kids who are lost in virtual reality" is actually as old as language.
I suspect that it predates writing by several millenia. Can you imagine our cavemen forebears? Try this thought on and see how it wears:
FADE IN: A CAVE SOMEWHERE IN THE NEANDER VALLEY (German word for "valley": TAL). THE DATE IS 40,000 YEARS B.C., IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ICE AGE. A GROUP OF NEANDER VALLEY PEOPLE (read "neander-tal people") ARE LYING DOWN BY THE EMBERS OF THEIR FIRE WHILE A STORM RAGES OUTSIDE.
ARNO and his brothers GUNTER, HANS, GIPFEL and YURGE have built a tent out of sticks and bearskins and have shoveled some charcoals into a pit they have carved into the earth. ARNO, the eldest, is telling stories to his younger siblings about a giant white fur covered snow man he calls a YETI and which he claims wanders the glaciers.
GUNTER: You can't get to the world of the Gods on a sled!
ALL THE BROTHERS: Can not!!
FATHER: "Kids, how many times do I have to tell you to stop telling fantasy stories and go to sleep. We have to hunt mammoth tomorrow and you need to be well rested."
YURGE: But dad, Arno hasn't finished telling us about the Yeti!!
KIDS: Yes Dad!
Now imagine a different scenario, updated to 5,000 BC. We are now in Ancient
"Akhnakhatun, my son", moans the mother, "would you PLEASE roll that blasted thing up and get back to work? You are supposed to be carrying lime up to the workers in the tomb so they can plaster the walls and all you do is sit and read those comic books!"
"But Mom, they are so cool... just wait until I finish this last scroll!"
"No dear... these scrolls are bad for your health. They will ruin your eyes and the stories they tell are not for children.They are violent and talk only of armies butchering other armies for control of the dynasty. I'm afraid you will grow up and become a warrior!"
"But what is wrong with wanting to be a warrior? It is so cool!"
"In the scrolls and on the wall paintings they always make it seem cool, and children get caught up in the fantasy. But real war is terrible. You have to learn to separate fantasy from reality. Scrolls and paintings make things seem real when they are not because they leave out important parts of reality. Scrolls are a dangerous invention. And for the MILLIONTH TIME THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS PEOPLE WITH DOGS HEADS AND BIRDS HEADS. Get a grip on reality!"
Do you guys get my point? Language.... whether encoded in speech, in storytelling, or in pictures on cave walls or in paintings or Hieroglyphics or text... creates a VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT that is ADDICTIVE. It enables people to experience alternate realities in which there are different roles. There are heroes and villains and options that don't exist in real life. Stories fill psychological needs for all of us who are dissatisfied with certain elements of our environments. Every society has undoubtedly had to grapple with the consequences of encoded fantasies that spring from our imagination as we reorder the images and sounds our senses pick up from reality and merge them with our dream realities.
I have no doubt that there was a time when parents were as worried about the influence of books on children as they now worry about the influence of video games. In fact we still worry when a child becomes “a book worm”. If you watch the Disney film “
The only reason we now encourage children to read all the time is because “first world” society shifted from a utilitarian group of producers to a privileged group of information processors. We have left the manufacturing and “reality” based burdens of dealing with the nuts and bolts of producing to third world countries. In countries like
How many of you know that during slave times in
What I am trying to get at here is that language (by which I mean a symbolic medium capable of transmitting sensory information across time and space) creates environments and these environments can affect the psychology of behavior in strong strong ways. Because of this people have always wanted to control what kinds of virtual environments their children and other peoples children were exposed to.
Montesque, at the time of the French Revolution, wrote, “THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD”.
I am challenging you now to consider that all forms of symbolic expression, whether coming out of some storyteller’s mouth, or out of a book or out of a computer screen or television, are powerful forces of social change.
Armed with this insight, the debate of virtual vs. real environments may appear somewhat different to you.