Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The lost world of physicality

This is a blog post that I hope elicits responses, because I'm interested in people's examples and arguments. And pointers to books or articles on this subject. These thoughts are half formed, so don't expect a 100% perfect blog post.

I think that the world of TV, computers, video games has caused us to lose our connection with the physical world. Add on top of that fear: fear of letting children play in the street, fear of chemistry sets, fear of ultraviolet light. This combination means that people (and especially the young) spend hours indoors away from the physical world immersed in virtual worlds.

Now, I'm not against virtual worlds, but they're not the same thing as real worlds. Real worlds are filled with dirt, hazards, sensation, pleasure, effort and more. The virtual world is clean, colourful, free of danger and effortless. What I'm interested to discover is what we've lost by making that transition. What does it mean that virtual success comes without effort?

Books: as books move to electronic form they take on a different meaning. The words of the book transcend and the physical presentation is lost. On the Kindle every book is Twilight. In the real world the physical book has a meaning of its own: it's the book your wife gave you as an anniversary present, it's the book your late father got part way through and you dare not remove the bookmark he left in place, it's the children's book read and read until the pages are torn and worn. These physical remnants augment the book with personal meaning.

Sex: what happens when pornography becomes the default means of getting sexual pleasure. Does fantasy start to wither in the brain? If every fetish or desire is available (for free) at the touch of a button what happens when we are presented with a real other person to have sex with. And what's the cost of reality not matching screen fantasy?

Making: as a child I had Lego, Play-Doh, and other toys to occupy my hands. Now imagine that these are all virtualized and I play with them on screen. There's no difference felt in my hands between them. No texture, smell and pliability of Play-Doh, no satisfying click of Lego, no hunt for the right coloured piece. If an infinite amount of virtual stuff is available does my imagination atrophy? If I can always find the right coloured, right sized Lego piece is this an advantage or a loss because I'm no longer forced to invent?

Children: as an adult man I'm now viewed by many to be a threat children. I can't be seated next to a child flying alone on a flight. I'm afraid to talk to a child in the street, and we've seen schools instituting policies against any sort of physical contact between children and teachers.

UV: at the same time as these effects have been felt there's been another insidious problem: the War of the Sun. Prohibitions on going out into the Sun unprotected from its rays without sunblock (above SPF 15) have reached the point that vitamin D deficiency is being seen by doctors.

Do restrictions and effort help nurture creativity? What do we lost when the world surrounding children is closed up inside the home, in from of a pixelated screen with fear outside the front door and an infinite supply of on tap edutainment?

I think we need to walk away from the screen, out into the sunlight and touch the real world. It's out there.


If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.


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