Dystopian Future?

Note: this post was started several weeks ago, was stopped because I didn’t have access to the books I’m going to be talking about (being away from home at the time), and took a while to start back up again. So the events that inspired this post are a few weeks old, just bear that in mind.

I don’t make a secret of the fact that one of my favourite genres of novel/movie is Science Fiction – and I have a keen interest in those stories that present a Dystopian picture of the future (i.e. 1984; Brave New World; Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner; V for Vendetta). So when John Carmack (One of the Founders of ID Software – one of the oldest game developers) tweeted recently that he’s been reading both of them (and comparing them – for reasons unknown), it got me seriously thinking (as my brain just decides to do around 1am while I’m trying to sleep) about both books (and the genre as a whole).

Warning: The following post may contain traces of Literary Deconstructionism, which will make my English Teachers very proud of me, and may cause me to cry myself to sleep tonight – since I have previously declared I would never use the skills taught in High School English, and am now proven wrong.

The first thing I did was respond to Mr Carmack, saying that both books are amazing (which they are, not recommended for younger readers, but good books), but I wonder whether society (Western, First-World, society in particular) has learnt the lessons that both books sought to teach – important lessons that they are.

Brave New World paints a picture of the end result of the never-ending search for happiness that many seem to be on today. It paints a world where everyone is kept supplied with a narcotic that functions as a sleeping pill, stress reliever, ‘personal “holiday” pill’, etc – all with no side effects – and no-one ages past 20, a society where people are bred to perform specific tasks in sterile laboratories, and conditioned in a way that not doing those jobs (or the set of predetermined tasks/activities they are bred for) is unthinkable. Those that are bred to be part of the upper classes (the thinkers, managers, scientists, etc) are given more freedom of choice, but are still heavily regulated by the government to prevent ‘tampering’ with the way society is set up. When a character from the outside is brought in, the criticism that he makes of the world created to supply endless happiness to everyone in the book’s climax is particularly scathing:

Mustapha Mond (Member of ruling government): We prefer to do things comfortably.”

John the Savage (not born in ‘civilised society’): “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

Brave New World is a book that is supposed to make you think ‘what are we as a society, as a people, giving up when we seek only our own comfort and happiness?’ I think the answer to that question is that, in giving up the ability to be unhappy, we give up the opportunity to find joy – a much deeper and more fulfilling emotion than happiness.

In contrast, 1984 paints a view of the world where the government has gone crazy with control. A society where at some point all the checks and balances that keep governments accountable to the people they represent are torn down. The government spies on its citizens (through mandatory listening/video devices in every place of residence), and tampers with any and all records – either to retroactively prove that they were right about an event (such as the forecasts for how well the economy will do), or to fabricate evidence against those who have become too troublesome to keep around (government members who have outlived their usefulness, or pre-revolutionaries). The only rebellion against this regime that we see the main characters (Winston and Julia) engaged in is minor – as minor rebellion is really all that they are capable of achieving – while there are only dreams of a major revolt on the part of the main character, nothing concrete ever happens, and the main antagonist of the story dismisses Winston’s fantasies outright. It paints a bleak picture (as does Brave New World, although I don’t want to spoil too much of either book), which was inspired by events in the past, and it is echoed still in one country today. While I don’t think that we will see a radical change in our society at some point in the future that brings us closer to the world of 1984, it does bring into focus a possible endpoint for our society’s obsession with security – personal, societal and national. If we already possess the ability to spy on people through their phones, etc – what is to stop people from using that same technology to prevent possible threats to their own power or way of life? Where is the line drawn now, and what prevents people from stepping over it?

In any case, this is feeling like it’s turning into paranoid raving, so I’ll just leave you all with the following quote, and some questions to think about:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture….In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.”  – Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death)

Have we as a society learnt the lessons that Aldus Huxley and George Orwell left in their writings? Are there lessons that the rest of the Utopian/ dystopian genre can teach us that we are forgetting? Are they lessons that everyone should learn? What do we stand to lose if people forget them?

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What I’ve Learnt Through Gaming

Before I begin this post, I want to announce that I will be doing my best to update this blog weekly (most likely on Tuesdays or Wednesdays at this point – subject to change), and I want you – my readers – to help keep me on track. I’ve had a backlog of drafts and post ideas for a while now, and I want to do something about it – I figure making myself accountable to you all in regards to regular blogging is a good way to get some of those finished and available for people to read (turns out I need a stick as well as a carrot – even for things I enjoy doing……). And now, this week’s post:

I’ve written before on the potential Video Games have to be a tool for learning, but over the past week, I’ve been particularly hit by the realisation that playing my online games (Tribal Wars and The West) has either taught me, or reinforced for me, quite a few different life lessons. I thought I’d list  some of them here for your enjoyment and reflection. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what all games have taught me – being only about 2 games in particular, and only a few  skills from those games – but just something to think about.

The most major of the lessons Tribal Wars and The West have taught me are concerned with what people look for in the workplace. In one of the servers I am a part of on The West, I joined the town I am a part of as a general member – I was happy to help out in any way that I could (both within the town, and in the alliance of towns we are a part of), but other than that, I didn’t have any responsibility. Over time, still being generally just out to help wherever I can, and communicating with anyone from my group that I can, I have been given more and more responsibility, not just within my town, but within the alliance my town is a part of – to the point where I have recently been appointed as a leader in my town, and one of the voting members of the alliance council. I know this has been a more rapid rise than would occur within ‘Real Life’ (not the best term in my opinion, but good shorthand for life outside of the game), but the principles are generally the same – being open to helping wherever possible, and being eager to learn and help others can often lead to more responsibility within any area of life.

Further than that, over the years I have been playing both of these games, I’ve been part of groups that have had good organisation and leadership skills; groups with bad leadership, but good organisation; groups with charismatic leaders, and terrible organisation; and groups with bad organisation and leadership. I’ve learnt to cope with all of these situations, and even thrive under a few of them. I’ve also been a part of running groups of both large amounts of people (in the case of the group previously mentioned, almost 100 people), and smaller groups (less than 20 people), with varied success at both. These are management skills, and experiences that I can call on again if I am ever in a similar situation. Tribal Wars has a lot of strategy involved, as much of the game revolves around building a village, and using the various soldiers that the village can train in order to both defend the territory I already hold, and taking the territory of rivals in my area. Because of this I am no stranger to making what can often be hard decisions about what works best given the current situation (which can often be in conflict with my natural tendencies – which is towards defense, and a strong economy), with both a short term, and a long term goal in mind.

There are more things that I have learnt throughout my experiences with both of these games, and with many different games in general, but I don’t want this post to get any longer – it already seems to be looking like an extended resume, and I’d hate for it to get any longer……

So have any of you learnt anything meaningful from playing a video game? Has it just been something trivial? Have you not learnt anything (or haven’t played enough to see any learning happen)? Do you have any thoughts of the subject? Is this (either the topic, or the asking questions at the end of a post) something you’d like me to do again?

Children and the Internet

I’ve written before on the dangers inherent in using Facebook – especially for Teenagers/Young Adults – but I think that there is more to say on the subject, and on the subject of Children (that is, those under 18) using the Internet as a whole.

This morning I found a link to a news article – linked here – concerning the charging of two pre-teen girls over the ‘hacking’ and malicious vandalism of a classmate’s Facebook page. The majority of the vandalism was concerned with the defamation of the victim, and the article raises many questions about Internet Security, Cyber-bullying, and several other issues.

Internet security is a major issue for many people – the sheer number of people that fall for various scams is a clear indicator of this – and it isn’t made easier by the fact that every Internet browser has an inbuilt option to save passwords for less secure (i.e. non-bank related) websites. There are three main settings for this function – always ask (normal setting), never save, and always save. It’s not hard to change this setting by accident (since it’s often an easily ticked checkbox), and once you’ve set your browser to automatically save user-names and passwords you have to open (and often really look through) the options menu to turn it off. This can often mean that when you use a friends computer (or more scarily a public one), your password is saved, and anyone who wishes to can then log into your account. This is most likely what happened with the girl in the news article, she logged in once on a friend’s computer, and the web browser saved the password.

This brings us to the issue of Cyber-bullying – which is becoming more and more prevalent as the years go by. This is one of the hardest forms of bullying to combat, as many parents are still not aware of many of the dangers inherent in using the Internet – and often aren’t aware of what their children are doing when they’re online. It’s also one of the most damaging, as there can often be no way of telling how far the words said will travel – things posted on the Internet have a strange ability to find their way to other websites – often to a surprising degree – and even when the original statement/post/etc is removed, it’ll often live on somewhere else.

I know this isn’t the most in-depth treatment of either topic, but entire blogs have been dedicated solely to both of these issues, so anything I place here will never be in depth, but I do want to restate something that I’ve said before, and will probably say many times:

Parents, be aware that the Internet can be a dangerous place for anyone – doubly so for children. Be aware of what they are up to, teach them how to use passwords well, and teach them about the dangers that the Internet holds.

The dangers of Facebook

If you’re remotely connected to technology news, or know any teenagers on Facebook, then you’ll probably know about the most recent ‘viral party’ that’s hit Facebook, which, as of this morning, achieved over 200,000 people attending.

Now, I do feel sorry for the girl who was holding the party,  especially with how out of hand it’s gotten off Facebook, but this brings to mind something that I think people need to realise.

CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS NEED TO BE TAUGHT ABOUT THE INTERNET!!!!

This has been something I get angry about that pops up from time, starting from around the time people in my year at school were insulting teachers on myspace, and then complaining when they found out that the teachers could see what they had written, and continuing to this day when I read about people who didn’t pay enough attention to privacy online. So now seems like a good time to rant about it. Here goes…..

It should go without saying that everything you put on the Internet (unless you specifically have great security measures – like the kind banks and such have) can easily be found by almost anyone. As such, common sense would dictate that you don’t put confidential information up on any website (i.e. Phone Numbers, Addresses, etc), and this is especially true of social networking sites, where nearly everyone can see what’s going on. This party is a perfect example of a public event being found on the pages of her friends (by people she probably didn’t know), and the chain being followed until everyone and their dog knows about it. It’s not even that hard to make an event private (invite only) – only ONE check box – and it doesn’t take too long to invite everyone. If you have time to plan a party, and write up an event on Facebook for it, you have time to invite everyone you want to come. And even if you do create a private event, don’t put your phone number or address on it, if you know the person, write it in a Private Message or E-mail – or better yet, tell them in person how to contact you!

This is an important issue, because not only do you get these kind of viral parties – which can cause personal and property damage up to the tens of thousands – but because not being careful about what you put on the Internet can be downright dangerous. If you publicise where you live – even if it’s just to Facebook – you are telling the world – everyone who doesn’t like you, every ‘enemy’ that you’ve ever made, and every jerk who thinks it might be fun to trash your yard.

So please, think about what you’re writing before you commit it to the Internet, and educate your children about responsible Internet use from an early age. Thanks.

Oh, and to all you jerks who created pages making jokes about this sort of thing, could you please stop? All you are being are a bunch of trolls and jerks, all of whom are ruining my hope that my generation can grow up into a mature, reasonable bunch of people – the kind whom society wouldn’t want to disown. Thanks.

Technology and Children

I read something fairly interesting at a family member’s blog about how kids are interacting with technology. This is a particularly interesting topic from my point of view, because I can’t remember a point in time when I wasn’t able to use a computer, I was playing very basic educational games before I could talk, and once I reached ten I was playing video games at every opportunity – and at school it had become strange to not have a typed assignment. This got even worse during high school when the range of things that could be done on the Internet increased rapidly, and I became more and more engrossed in computer games – to the point of using them to escape reality in my mid teenage years.

It’s always fascinated me how quickly children can pick up on how to use technology, I’m certain that at some point in the future I’m going to have to be told how to work something by one of my future kids – and I’m exceptionally  technologically literate! And thus is the balance that has to be held – people don’t want to hold their children back (especially since technology is changing and improving so quickly), but there is also the need to let kids be kids, and to allow them to learn about the world, and about life, at the same time as learning to handle technology.

When I come to this question (and I’m sure I will), I suppose that I will be grateful to have had the benefit of having almost completely having grown up with computers and the Internet, and as such am aware of the good that technology can have, and also of the issues concerning the use of technology (having been exposed or having suffered through many of them) – especially as I continue becoming introspective and considering the effect my upbringing and choices have had upon the way I’ve turned out. I have the ability to see how my parents handled this, and learn from it (unlike many for whom modern technology only became dominant when they were older), and I am thankful.

Something to think about, isn’t it?