I know as much about internet technology as my dogs know about modern art, but I am here to tell you that I consider myself a pioneer in the field of virtual reality. Assuming, of course that I understand the idea, which I probably don't. Today a student and I were reading an article about 'Russian cypersport', and I realized that I was in over my head.
"Dima, dafuq?" I said.
He explained carefully, with occasional pauses to thump my head against the wall to expedite my understanding. In truth, I walked away with visions of a previously undiscovered world of the deepest night and some sort of vampire banquet hall where the lights come on slowly, revealing a feast, not of goose or venison or the exposed necks of virgins but of computers. And in this visionary world, millions of players were thundering on their keyboards. Lots of shouting and gesticulating as the epic wars were being won and lost.
I have many IT students. I often chide them about their attention span. My favorite thrust is to tell that that they are capable only of thinking 'horizontally' but not 'vertically.' By this, I mean that they are brilliant at assessing a multitude of quick-silver correlations along a surface, superb at multi-tasking, and second to none at gulping down enormous helpings of their precious INFORMATION.
But I tell them that they are duds at thinking IN DEPTH, especially about "ultimate concern issues." (Why do I exist? What do I really want? Am I living an authentic life? That sort of thing.). That's what I mean by 'vertical.' And I base this on the fact that most of them, even those who are better-than-average in English, just can't seem to handle a question that involves switching off their smart phones and…thinking. I am convinced that there is truth in what I say, all the more so because these are often extremely intelligent people. If they were idiots it would be a non-issue.
They are simply wired a different way. And that's OK. But, as a survivor from an era where people were not intimidated by books which had not been abridged by 75% and saturated with illustrations and advertisements to take their minds off the actual text, and for whom a cup of coffee with a friend meant true conversation uninterrupted by phone calls, messages, and a constant, up-to-the-minute exodus to Facebook, and where films were made along the lines of a good story and complex character development instead of car chases and special effects — I sometimes get exasperated. In fact, I frequently feel that I am dealing with people who, in their frantic haste to hurry up and go NOWHERE, have somehow managed to miss the whole point of being alive.
There, I am out of the closet. That's what I really think of these people. They are sweet, clever, kind, serious, sincere…and somehow they have let themselves become completely f—-ed up by technology.
Indeed there are two words I have almost begin to hate, INFORMATION and TECHNOLOGY.
It is all that these sweet, clever, kind, serious, sincere people seem to know or care about. I love them, in some ways they are all I have, these people. But sometimes I act like a scolding parent. Sorry.
T-H-I-N-K —- I want to roar at them. Try THINKING.
Yet, walking along the street this evening, I started remembering things about my own past.
When I was a kid I was kind of pushed into sports by my grandfather, He had it in his head that I would be a champion. I knew better. I didn't have it. I was athletic enough, but small, skinny and slow. I made the school teams but the coach made me sit on the bench during the games. American-style. Somehow all that sacrifice with no pay-off was still supposed to 'build character.' All it built was callouses on my ass from riding the pines. Today I would have told them to KISS that ass, but no matter.
I became the supreme sports fan, and I took refuge in my own imagination.I decided I wanted to be a sports broadcaster, and so one Christmas my folks bought me a tape recorder. They were big machines back then, bigger than a microwave oven. I used to invent imaginary ballgames and broadcast them on that primitive box. Back then the equivalent of Leggo was called Lincoln Logs. I remember using that box to dream up a whole baseball season. In American baseball, certain things happen, and I had to account for all of them. So what I did was cut up a lot of paper into tiny slips, and on these slips I would write all the things that could occur. Ball. Strike. Ground out. Home Run. Etc., etc. I had to experiment until I got the right proportion, but eventually I did. So then I deposited all of these bits of paper into the Lincoln Log container and got ready to start the season.
The real season ran for 154 games back then, and I knew I could never do that many. So I decided on 36. I also understood (I was about 12 years old) that chance was going to play the key role, so I could not choose a really good team or a really bad one. I needed a so-so team that would win and lose about the same number of games. I chose the Chicago Cubs. I knew their roster and I kept statistics. I would sit there by myself in my bedroom with the tape recorder on and start the broadcast: "Good afternoon folks, and welcome to Wrigley Field. Today the St. Louis Cardinals are in for a three game set against our Cubs and…."
I would pull the slips of paper one by one out of the Lincoln Logs box and announce the game as if it were really happening. Back in those days, the television had only three channels and in between was merely a blank screen. But if you turned it up you could hear a loud "SHHHHHHHHH". We called it 'snow'. But if you ramped it up suddenly it sounded like a crowd at a ballpark cheering. So when one of the Cubs players did something good, the crowd cheered its approval.
I did a whole baseball season like that. Just me. And the tape recorder. And the Lincoln Logs box with all those meticulously worked out slips of baseball combinations. And that old TV where the crowd at Wrigley field slept until I told them to wake up and cheer. After the game, I would write down all the statistics. You know, I still remember that as one of my proudest achievements, playing that whole baseball season like I did.
What drove me to it? Was I lonely? Anyone walking past that room might have thought: what a strange, goofy boy.
But I wasn't lonely at all. Hell no, I was at Wrigley, or at Dodger Stadium, or Candlestick Park. The wind was blowing out towards center field, and the Chicago Cubs, in their blue and white uniforms, were about to run out onto the sunny baseball diamond.
It was more real than anything else in that house. In basketball season I went to the dark basement, turned on the light, put up a little wooden 'basket' and dribbled a tennis ball up and down, hitting the crucial jump shots.. Many championships were won and lost in that draughty cellar.
Out in the world I was goofy Eric Leroy. In that basement I was Magic Johnson.
That's how I invented Virtual Reality.
===Eric Richard Le Roy===