Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 21st century "Lost Generation": the "no-lifes"

Ever feel guilty about how much time you spend reading over the internet? I know I do, but my average of two to three hours each day spent on blogs and news reading pale in comparison to an increasing addiction brewing among the young.

A challenge I remember from my teenage years, and especially my 20s, was striking a healthy balance between real life and my hobbies. I was especially obsessed with the craft that eventually became my trade, and I shudder now to think of all the hours I must have blindly spent practicing it and studying it, instead of experiencing the life that existed around me. One can love one's job, but should one's life be one's job? Surely labor becomes most rewarding when it serves as a means to an end, and that this end becomes the means by which we surround ourselves with the strong emotional and spiritual bond of Family. For myself, I noticed almost too late how I had come to use my work as an excuse to not challenge myself with this most noble of difficulties: raising a family of my own. From the moment I began courting my wife, I made a conscious effort to break the habits of a decade, to place work and hobbies second, and real life first. Having a family became what I considered to be my real "job", which other things must slide and make way to accomodate. This has brought a joy and fulfillment unimaginable to the younger version of me who toiled late into the night, evening after evening, foolishly thinking that this what life was all about.

And so I am not entirely unsympathetic when reading the following article from La Croix, a French Christian magazine. It is hard to find a balance in one's life. If we don't develop an inner hourglass, to act as a constant reminder to allow the sands to fall the other way as needed, we set ourselves up to never turn the hourglass over, because to do so at long last causes us to realize the full extent of our imbalance. Who can face up to their mistakes, when they exist on such a colossal scale? Much easier to put off the fateful change for another hour, another day, another month... another time.

The increasing infantilization of society carries with it the seductive distraction to avoid ever turning over that hourglass, allowing the state to subsidize a life spent online, in the manner described by La Croix magazine last week. They report on a new social phenomena, primarily cursing the younger generation, in that they do not develop any sense of balance between work, play, and real life. And one can only imagine what future these young people have in store for themselves, from having lived lives other than their own, during the years in which they should be most interested in exploring the flesh-and-blood world around them.

In search of a dream life on the internet

The appearance of online internet games leads many adolescents to only live within their virtual worlds, to the detriment of their studies or their professional lives….

World of Warcraft (WoW) [is]the most famous of online games, which counts more than 8 million members. These online games have the particularity of uniting, simultaneously over the internet, hundreds of thousands of players from around the world. Yes, it does indeed mean thousands of people playing at the same time, one against the other, on their computer.

It’s about futuristic, medieval or fantasy worlds, comparable to the Lord Of The Rings films, adapted from Tolkien’s novels, within which a player lives epic adventures through his character, accompanied by other players connected, often, at the other end of the world, all [participating through] a monthy subscription.

Every day, and often even until late into the night, “Cedric” comes to play in the basement of a cybercafe open 24 hours out of 24, in the center of Paris…

Like him, there are dozens, between 18 and 35 years of age, aligned before the computers, like workers on a new kind of chain gang, eyes riveted to the screen, fingers gripping the mouse. [It’s]a somber atmosphere, silent, almost studious…

…This new generation of video games create a more stronger addiction than the older games. The particularity of these MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game), is to offer what is called “persistent worlds”: even if the computer is turned off, the characters continue to evolve and to live.

“Other games have a beginning and an end, but WoW never stops. And the players continue to think about what is happening there. That’s why they want to return to it,” explains Ankhbayar, 24 year old student, originally from Mongolia, who is a regular at the cybercafe. “To get a good level, you have to play at least four hours a day. And when you’re in a guild, meaning, part of a team, you cannot fall behind, otherwise you get kicked out. It quickly becomes like slavery.”

From amusement to refuge, there is effectively but a single step, quickly taken by some. “In WoW, you have superpowers. You feel a little invincible. You can die, but you regain your body in two minutes”, explains Cedric.

A true social phenomenon, the MMOG, and WoW in particular, are a daily fixture for the generation raised with a computer in hand….

The risk of addiction is highest among the youth without any exterior motivation. “Paradoxically, those who spend the most time playing are those people who are unemployed or who have difficulty creating a real life for themselves. This is where they find it”, observed Cyril Jarry [an employee of the cybercafe]. ”It’s like a drug, when you start getting into it, you think about it all the time, but if you have a job and friends on the side, it places limits on you”, says Sofiane, 19 years old. ”You’re quickly caught in the trap”, adds Cedric, who recognizes having become a “no-life”, according to the jargon… “I play 24 hours straight and then I go sleep for 12 hours. It takes time away from my looking for a job, but it’s a choice and it will only last for a short time”, he claims…

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