Saturday, July 22, 2017

When Recreation Is No Longer Much Fun

            Modern technology has had a tremendous influence on the world of human recreation, partly as a result of the development of totally new forms of competition, both with others as well as with oneself, in the form of video games.  In addition, modern technology has created electronic versions of games that have existed in some form for centuries.  A good example of the latter is bingo.  Modern technology has created a version where players hold electronic devices that can carry dozens of bingo cards and that automatically mark the appropriate spaces in all the appropriate cards when a bingo number is called.  No need to worry about having gotten distracted and having missed a box on one’s bingo card when a number is called.  The electronic device never gets distracted when the bingo numbers are being called.  And I guess that because bingo is frequently couched as a form of gambling, eliminating as many of the risk factors as is possible may be a relevant factor for people who have what is for them serious money on the line.

            But what does this do to bingo as a game, as a life activity?  Now playing bingo is certainly not one of the most significant ways of making organic imprints on one’s field of experience.  As a form of competition, it is certainly not what would be called a highly skilled game compared to chess, bridge, checkers, backgammon, dominoes, poker, or scrabble.  But it does require a certain skill in being vigilant about the numbers being called and being able to scan one’s card or cards as each number is called, and this tends to bring all the players together emotionally, as they share the surprise and excitement created by the situation.  So traditional bingo can be not only fun but it can be a rich vibrant experience and a contribution to the memories that are formed of a meaningful life narrative, memories that can play a small but useful part in developing a person’s surrogate immortality.

            But with electronic bingo, the major components of human agency being exercised in traditional bingo, those of vigilantly listening for the number called and scanning the bingo cards for a match, are eliminated.  The electronic devices retrieve the numbers being called and automatically match them on the person’s cards.  The gambling aspect is still there.  The suspense and excitement are still present, if only in a more attenuated way.  But in the larger scheme of things, in the larger field of experience of life, one more piece of personal agency in the larger world of human narrative is lost.  And one more small source of organic friction, as an opportunity to test ourselves for being aware and quick, disappears.  And one more source of interactive life is vacuumized and turned into a screen reality activity.

            Supposedly, the reason that so much work activity has been vacuumized by modern technology has been so that we could have the time, energy, and state of mind to immerse ourselves in recreation: a sphere of human activity in which we could focus on having rich vibrant life experiences.  But now, not just bingo, but so many different areas of recreation have been and are being vacuumized.  Many of us spend more time watching life on a screen than we do living life directly under the propulsion of our own volition.  Young kids spend less and less time playing outside and more and more time watching television, playing video games, and interacting with each other on their smartphones.

            Real life is physical movement through time and space with a purpose.  This is what makes for a meaningful human narrative.  To fully be able to experience this movement, there has to be human agency and there has to be friction.  But modern technology is chipping away at both of these.  In the case of electronic bingo, there is a loss of human agency, because it is the electronic device that makes the match between the called number and the bingo cards.  There is a loss of friction, because the person no longer is moving the markers onto his cards and no longer feels anxiety over his responsibility for watching and controlling his cards.  There is still anxiety over the risk involved, if he is gambling on the bingo cards, but the risk is based on forces that are now completely beyond his control.  They are abstract forces.  If he loses, he no longer has to beat himself over the head about what he could have done better.  He can be fatalistic.  It is no longer his personal loss.  Such a loss is not evidence of a deficient organic imprint.  Of course, the loss still creates pain and anguish, because the player is still being hurt.  Only this time it is because of random activities with which he is not directly involved.

            So soon we will get to the point where we have sucked all the personal agency and all the personal organic friction not only out of practically all work activities, but out of all recreational activities as well.  The world will move along around us, and we will just sit there in our numb state watching everything going by.

            To the extent that we go through life stages, this growth can be considered a kind of movement in place.  But if everything becomes free of organic friction, what do we actually experience.  Life becomes a voyage analogous to sliding down a chute.  When you slide down a chute, there is no opportunity to make or receive meaningful organic imprints in connection to the surfaces around you.  And there is no opportunity of, course, to preserve organic imprints, to recreate a surrogate immortality, and to prepare for death.

            In most of my articles, I have balanced my discussions of the understimulation of the vacuum, with explorations of the overstimulation of the abrasive friction caused by the waste products of tension pockets.  I have ignored the influence of these tension pockets in this article, because I wanted to focus on the primary influence of the diminution of organic friction by the electrification of bingo, and the growing appearance of a sensory vacuum for the players, as they have nothing significant to do during the game.

            Playing electronic bingo is just one small piece in the ongoing attempt by creators and promoters of modern technology to chip away at the organic friction that has traditionally been an integrated part of the life narratives of human beings.  Furthermore, this modern version of an old game shows that the proponents of modern technology are out to make not only work more and more frictionless, but recreation as well.  And as all of life increasingly turns into a frictionless vacuum, people in their growing numbness become increasingly like robots, in order to survive the sensory distortion created by a vacuum and the forces of entropy that underlie it.  This is why even a little game like electronic bingo has a significant influence as one small part of an increasingly pernicious technological transformation of our human living environment.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow

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