Monday, August 16, 2010

Is This the Real Life, or Is This Just Fantasy?

I've been posting a lot recently about the distinctions we draw--or fail to draw--between reality and fantasy. Two incidents from my vacation indicate why this discussion matters.

Incident One: I'm walking down Bearskin Neck, the peninsula that juts into Rockport Harbor, with my wife and kids. In front of us, two teenage girls are walking side by side--and each of them is texting, presumably to someone else, someone not present. They're standing inches from each other: from a real person, a real friend, a real relative, a real presence. They could have been talking to each other, putting their arms around each other, or simply enjoying the sights, sounds, and other sensations of a seaside town at night. But they, like a whole generation of young people, prefer to remove themselves from real life and to enter a fantasy world of virtual experience.

Incident Two: I'm sitting on the sand watching my wife and kids play on the raft anchored a hundred yards off the shoreline of Rockport's Front Beach. (That's at low tide; at high tide, the raft is more like three hundred yards away. I know from swimming out there with them in water that couldn't have been more than 60 degrees.) In front of me, a man sits beside his eight-year-old daughter, who's collecting beach glass. She scampers about the beach excitedly, returning to him every few moments to show her newest treasure, to ask him where she can keep it safely, to encourage him to join her. But he doesn't join her, doesn't respond to her queries, barely registers her presence. Why? Because he's fooling with some handheld wireless device, some I Touch or Black Pod or whatever the hell, the entire time. (We're talking a good hour, not just minutes.) Here's a guy with a beautiful daughter, a happy, bubbly kid who actually longs to spend time with him, on a weekend at the beach--and he'd rather monkey around with some damn fool device that takes him either hundreds of miles away, to whoever on earth he's communicating with, or (even scarier) into the timeless, placeless realm of cyberspace, with its "apps" and buttons and icons and droids unanchored to anything real, anything actually there. And this isn't a teenager--this is a grown man, an ostensible adult, choosing, once again, fantasy over reality.

When my kids came back to shore, I climbed the rocks with them. The rocks were hard, and hot, and occasionally hazardous. But they were real, and I wouldn't have traded the experience for anything.

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