Lessons from ‘Ready Player One’

*Below contains spoilers for the book Ready Player One

I just finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and wanted to share a few thoughts.  The book is about a young, high school boy living in a future dystopian world.  The future is set about 30 years from our current day, which may be an accurate timeline in terms of where we are headed with developing technology.  In this future setting, Wade Watts (our protagonist) has a chance to overcome his poor background if he can complete a challenging type of scavenger hunt proposed by tech tycoon James Halliday.  The winner of the contest obtains the now deceased Halliday’s fortune, which would be the equivalent of obtaining Jeff Bezos’s net worth.  Fossil fuels have been used up, and those wishing to attempt the contest must do so in OASIS, the virtual reality world that is more popular than actual reality.  It is a book laden with pop culture and video game references, which I readily enjoyed as a child who grew up with console and arcade games.

I flew through the reading, and enjoyed the end message, although it does have some explicit language and sexual innuendo.  If that isn’t something you want to read or have in your mind, there are plenty of good, wholesome books like Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia that take place in fun, imaginative worlds without any adult content.  Other books I would suggest are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the role technology plays in our lives, and I believe Ready Player One is a book that speaks quite accurately about the world we live in.  Here are a collection of my main thoughts on completion of the book.

Takeaway #1: Live in the real world.

Technology has done many wonderful things in our lives.  We can connect with old friends we’ve lost touch with, post proud moments of our accomplishments or our family on social media, and keep digital records of our favorite books.  Taxes, resumes, and correspondence can all be sent completed online.  I’m able to do research for this blog online, and I’m grateful for that.  This isn’t a post bashing technology or condemning people who use smartphones.  Rather, it’s encouragement to rely on technology less in our recreational lives.

Like many others, I have to use a computer database to do my job.  Most people send and receive many emails each day to correspond with co-workers and managers.  What’s interesting is that once we leave our jobs and go home to our family and friends, we don’t have to take that technology with us, and yet frequently we choose to.  There is no rule saying we must have Netflix on, or that we must have our smartphones safely within reach to relax in our homes.  One of the themes in the book is that the characters exist both in the real world and as avatars in a virtual world.  Social pressure doesn’t seem to exist when the characters in Ready Player One interact in the virtual world, but when there are chances for the characters to meet in reality, they stall and show the same defense mechanisms we all show when we’re uncomfortable.  So put down your smartphone the next time you’re talking with a loved one.  Or better yet, leave it in a different room.  Again, it’s not something we have to do every day, but practicing real life with real people is far better than leaving in a virtual world.

Takeaway #2: Use technology for good.

This may seem subjective, but the reason I used the above tagline is because it’s used in the book.  The main character, Wade, is encouraged towards the end of the book to use his fame in the virtual world for good and not evil.  This thought isn’t totally drawn out in the book, but there are several practical applications.  Pornography is more easily accessible than at any time in history.  Our country is divided, and anyone with a computer or smartphone can hurl insults at one another without any repercussions.  We have grown skilled at loving ourselves and hurting others who disagree with us.  My suggestion to go against this type of negativity is to build people up in person.  A kind Facebook post or comment may go a long way in helping build someone up, but telling them face to face is even better.  Again, I’m not condemning technology, but the reality is that Facebook has only existed for the last decade or so, and people were showing each other love in real life long before that.  If you’re posting something kind about someone on social media, try to say those same words to them out loud.

Additionally, if you find yourself only checking Facebook or Instagram for the drama, maybe take a short break.  Take a day off from social media and spend time with your friends and family.  Our world is filled with negativity, and sometimes we just need to remember to be still and always be engaged with a screen.  Go on a walk, talk to a loved one, or simply watch a sunset without taking pictures.  I am quite guilty of being screen addicted, and even as I write this, my 1 year old daughter has frequently walked up to me simply to have me play with her.  So on that note……

Takeaway #3: Think about the children.

We are raising a generation of children who will never know a life without smartphones. Think about that for a moment.  This isn’t an old man complaining about the good old days, it’s a 27 year old remembering a few years back when childhood looked much different.  And the old man I made up who is complaining about technology is more right than we want to admit; the past in some ways was much better.  Your friends were your neighbors, video games were less popular, and people spent more time together.  I fondly remember water balloon fights, playing touch football and tag with my friends growing up. Those days are largely over.  There is a school of thought that would say don’t have your children ever watch T.V. or play video games, and I believe that may work for some.  In my experience, hiding things from children leads to them seeking out the source anyway, and I would rather educate my child than have someone else do it.

So how do we deal with technology with our kids?  In Ready Player One, Wade comments that in Japan, there are millions of kids who interact only in OASIS, and that their relations with family members in reality is minimal.  We aren’t far from this, loved ones. And we as adults are setting the example.  This isn’t meant to make you feel small or judged.  As I said, I spend a great deal of time on my phone or watching T.V.  I only have myself to blame if my daughter grows up addicted to media.  I would suggest having specific times where there isn’t a T.V on or where you play with your child without a smartphone around.  I’ve recently started using an app that tracks how much I’m on my smartphone, which has been a humbling experience.  I don’t want my daughter growing up glued to a screen.  I want her to learn lessons about life, morality, and God from my wife and I, not from sitcoms.  Remember, you set the example.  And finally…..

Takeaway #4: Pursue your dreams without the piles.

This may sound corny or confusing, but I take this away from the fact that the author of Ready Player One, Ernest Cline, was challenged to write a novel, and that he hoped others would follow suit and pursue their dreams and create something.  This may look different for each person, but I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve been challenged by my wife to write more (which is why I’m writing this post).  For you, it could be to climb a mountain and share pictures, or to travel the world.  Or it could be as simple as reaching out to someone and patching up a broken relationship.  The piles part of the above statement refers to a joke between my wife and I about my love of books.  I’ve accumulated many books over my life, and sometimes I put them in piles by my bed.  Whether it be books, games, memorabilia, or a specific app, we all have our piles that come between us and our loved ones.  And that just isn’t what God intended for us.

In Ready Player One, my favorite moment comes at the end.  Wade realizes that the beauty of the contest wasn’t in getting rich and inheriting money and retro video games, it was in meeting his fellow avatars in real life.  When our focus shifts from ourselves to others, amazing things happen.  I’ve loved writing my whole life, but I would have always been too afraid if it hadn’t been from the encouragement of my high school teachers, my wife, and my parents.  My wife and daughter have taught me that love in real life is more beautiful than any movie or book could ever capture.  So put down your phone, or turn off Netflix, and simply encourage the people around you.  That little push may be all they need to start pursuing their dream.

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