Let’s Talk About Video Games

…again.

Let’s face it, I talk about games a lot on this blog.  They’re a big part of my life…being one of the main ways I relax when I’m not busy dealing with my responsibilities (adulting is hard man).  And I’ve come to their defense a number of times, particularly when it comes to the attitude that they’re either pointless wastes of time with no value or, in more extreme cases, that they lead to violent behavior.

When I was younger, I heard this kind of talk a lot.  Violent games cause violence.  For so many people who had never laid their hands on a controller, that just seemed to be the logical conclusion.  Because there is a large amount of history and research behind the idea that people who consistently witness violent imagery become more desensitized to violence.  But while violence was constantly glorified in movies and sensationalized in the news, it seemed that video games were the ones that found themselves in the crosshairs.

Now, that’s not to say that there isn’t a worthwhile discussion we can have.  The interactive nature of a video game is something that sets it apart from watching a movie or news broadcast.  But despite all the stories about killers who played violent games in the days leading up to their crime, there’s never been a conclusive link between the games and the violence that the person perpetrated.

One of the first times I can remember games being blamed for something was in the case of the Beltway Snipers.  During the course of the investigation, it was revealed that the younger of the two snipers (Lee Malvo) was “trained” on the video game “Halo”.  This of course led to a whole long crusade against the game franchise, led by then-lawyer Jack Thompson, a notorious critic of video games at the time (he has since been disbarred from practicing law…hmm I wonder why).  But despite the outcry, nothing ever really became of it.  And the “Halo” franchise still continues to this day.

Stories like this were common when I was growing up.  There were so many tales about the supposed dangers of playing “Grand Theft Auto” that I eventually lost track.  Like I said, the problem with all of this is that a conclusive link between games and violence has never been proven.  Even this Slate article from 2007, which seems to lean against video games, admits that these studies have their flaws and that “maybe aggressive people are simply more apt to play violent games in the first place”.  For every study that supposedly links games and increased aggression there is another study that finds helpful benefits from playing them.  That’s not just my bias talking either.  If you look for it, you’ll find that the literature surrounding the effects of video games is scattered at best.

 

And there are games out there that have no violence in them whatsoever. It’s a very broad medium, one that gets unfairly whittled down to a few controversial games in the public eye.

 

 

Another thing that bothered me was just how hypocritical the attitude toward video games really was.  In 2011 people in Canada rioted after their hockey team lost in the Stanley Cup final.  And no one really thought much of it.  Think I’m joking?  Just check out the headline for this CNN photo gallery of the riot:

“Canucks riot: Canadian hockey fans go Canucks in Vancouver.”

Ha ha isn’t it so funny guys?  Look at those silly Canadians.  Aren’t they just so crazy?

 

Nothing to see here…just some Canadians setting things on fire.

 

 

At least 140 people were injured in that riot…all over a sports game.  But do we want to talk about the implications of that?  Hell no.  Because violent behavior over sports is just an accepted thing in mainstream culture.  Even here in my home state, the animosity between Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers fans is nothing short of legendary.  And hockey fans in Canada have rioted even when their team wins!

It’s crazy, really, how skewed public opinion has been toward video games.  It seems to come mostly from the older generations who just don’t understand them.  It’s a natural generational thing…even my generation looks at babies with iPads and gets skeptical, despite the fact that the science isn’t conclusive on that either.  Someone I know from my high school days told me recently that he used to be one of those people until he had a kid and got him an iPad.  After he saw how it helped his child learn to speak and read, it changed his mind completely.

And that’s the key thing here: understanding.  We should be making attempts to understand why this latest trend is a trend.  We should be making attempts to understand why people like playing video games and why parents feel inclined to give their children iPads.  But instead, the conversation surrounding these things are frequently dominated by fear-mongering nonsense and hyperbole.  Is it worth having a conversation about?  Of course it is.  But immediately comparing video games or iPads to hardcore drug addiction is not the way to go.  All it does is muddy the waters and make having an actual dialogue impossible.

Because after all, understanding can go a long way in this world.

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Children These Days

Stop me if you’ve heard this rant before:

“Ugh…children these days are so spoiled!  They have no respect for their elders and spend too much time on their smartphones and iPads.  They’re getting pregnant and doing drugs.  They lack discipline, and it’s all those participation trophies and weak parenting that’s to blame.  These kids need a good spanking!  Back in my day, if I stepped out of line, my dad would give me an ass whuppin’!  And I turned out better for it!”

Sound familiar?  I’ve heard this quite a few times, or at least some version of it.  The basic gist of it is that everything was so much better “back in the day”.  You’ve probably heard this mentality before.  Maybe you’re even one of those people who have this mentality.  If that’s the case, then I have some unfortunate news for you.

The facts don’t support it…

One of the biggest components of this mindset is, of course, a perceived epidemic of rebellious behavior.  And while yes, the purpose of the teen years is to push the envelope in a sense, most of the time what people are talking about are drugs, alcohol, and sex.  But the thing is, kids these days are far less likely to do any of these things than they were back in the “good ol’ days”.  According to an article by the New York Times these types of behaviors have been declining for decades.

Some interesting numbers for you:

  • In 1980, about 60 percent of high-school seniors had tried marijuana and roughly 9 percent smoked it daily.  Today, only about 45.5 have tried it and only 6.6 percent smoke it daily.
  • 72 percent of high-school seniors in 1980 said they had recently consumed alcohol, whereas in 2011 that number had dropped to a historic low of only 40 percent.
  • In 1988, half of boys aged 15 to 17 had experienced sex.  By 2010, that number fell to 28 percent.  Same goes for teenage girls, dropping from 37.2 percent to 27 percent.

In the end, what this all means is that the story of an out-of-control generation of kids just isn’t accurate.  In fact, according to the research, today’s kids are better behaved then their parents were at the same age.  But the real question is why?  Why are kids these days so different?  What shaped the changes in their behavior?

Well…there’s no easy answer.  Like everything in life, the reality is that it’s a complicated issue.  The New York Times article points to some helpful possibilities:

“The last three decades have included a rise in the drinking age to 21; a widespread fear of H.I.V.; and legal challenges that stymied tobacco marketing. And while cellphones and Facebook have created new ways for teenagers to stir up trouble, they may also help parents monitor their children.”

The article also points out that today’s teens still found ways to rebel with things like sexting, but still reasons that every generation is subject to harsh scrutiny by the previous one.  And I think that’s the important lesson here, that every generation thinks they know what’s best and that the generations after theirs obviously don’t know what they’re doing.  In all this fear about smartphones and iPads, we forget the fact that the science simply isn’t there yet.  We dismiss the fact that some of the science even says that these things have beneficial effects on kids.  Because, clearly, we know what we’re doing.  Our way is the best, and damn every other way.

But, if I may, I would like to point to a possibility not raised in the New York Times article.  I would like to suggest that maybe part of the reason children are better behaved and generally more responsible may have to do with moving away from one simple thing: the idea of corporal punishment.

I can hear the protesting now.  “But I was spanked and I turned out just fine!”  Maybe you did.  Maybe you’re a perfectly fine, functional human being.  Or maybe it affected you in ways you can’t really see or understand.  I talked a long time ago about corporal punishment, and I’m going to link you to the same article I used back then.  As it turns out, spanking your kid may have detrimental effects on their brain development.  As the article says, “the sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have.”  Most people assumed that spanking led to compliance in children.  But that’s not necessarily true.

“What is spanking associated with? Aggression. Delinquency. Mental health problems. And something called “hostile attribution bias,” which causes children, essentially, to expect people to be mean to them.  This bias makes the world feel especially hostile. In turn, children are on edge and ready to be hostile back, ” the article says.

I’ve felt for a long time that spanking was more for the parent than it was for the child.  Think about it for a second.  What’s easier?  Getting to the root of why your child is misbehaving?  Or simply trying to beat it out of them?  Parents are human beings too, and sometimes they don’t have the time or the patience to deal with a child that’s acting out.  In such situations, it’s very easy to turn to the physical approach because it seems like it has immediate beneficial effects.  But, as the science says, there may be a lot more going on underneath the surface that we can’t see or understand until it’s too late.

Let me be clear, I’m not doing this to crap all over the previous generations.  My generation is old enough that I’ve noticed people my age donning the same mindset.  I’ve even caught myself doing it every once in a while.  Like I said before, every generation thinks they know what’s best and are afraid when things start to change.  I think it’s worth understanding that every generation sees the world a little differently.  And I think it’s worth remembering that it’s not necessarily a bad thing…just a different thing.

No one is perfect.  Children are going to act out in some way or another.  But that’s just part of growing up.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Story Re-Analysis: Returning to the World of “Dark Fall: Lights Out”

Human beings love to look back.  They long for past days, past events…times when they were younger.  But other times, they look back on the past with regret, wishing they could change things…

A little over three years ago I started writing this blog, posting every Wednesday.  And I’m proud to say that I’ve never missed a week.  But there are other things I am not so proud of, things that I wish I could have done better.  The biggest regret I have were the “story analysis” pieces I did.  I think I did around four of them total before I gave up on it entirely.  They were just proving too difficult to write and took more time than I thought they were worth.

And nowhere did I feel this more than the story analysis for a little video game called “Dark Fall: Lights Out”.

It just wasn’t a good post.  It was boring, and it was long (it totaled at almost five thousand words).  I have trouble reading through the entire thing and I was the one who wrote it!  So in the spirit of looking back I decided “what the heck…I’ll give it another shot!”  Here’s to second chances!

And without further ado, I present to you the story of “Dark Fall: Lights Out” once again…

 

The Story

A man tosses back and forth in his sleep.  Ghostly visions of a lighthouse and disembodied voices swirl around in his dreams.  He wakes, brought out of his slumber by a brief knocking at his door.  But when he opens the door, no one is there…

 

Don’t you hate it when ghosts knock on your door? Stupid ghosts…some of us are trying to sleep!

 

Our main character for this journey is Benjamin Parker, a cartographer commissioned to map the coast around the small town of Trewarthan.  In his journal, Parker makes it clear that he doesn’t enjoy the job and considers it a waste of his time.  But it doesn’t take long before he becomes intrigued by a light offshore.  He believes it belongs to a lighthouse, which is strange because the maps show no such lighthouse nearby.

He also talks about a repeating dream he’s been having for a long time, one of a metallic object falling from the sky…

Parker was called to Trewarthan by a man named Robert Demarion.  According to Parker’s journal, while the two are having breakfast one morning, Parker asks Demarion about the lighthouse.  Demarion responds as if he’s ill and exits the cottage, leaving Parker alone.  Parker begins rummaging around, finding a log by Demarion.  The log mentions how Demarion found a cavern underneath the lighthouse out on Fetch Rock island, but when he went to explore it he felt a terrifying presence that forced him to run away.

The book also holds a curious black object he found that can bend but not break, yet can be easily scratched or cut…

 

My oh my, what could this mysterious object be?

 

(Side note: the name “Hadden” refers to a company that was in the first “Dark Fall” game).

Back in the present, Parker ventures outside.  It doesn’t take long before a voice beckons Parker to enter a doorway.  Inside, Parker finds Demarion, who explains that he didn’t tell him about the lighthouse because he didn’t want Parker to be caught up in the town’s superstition.  Demarion also tells him that a passing ship reported that the lighthouse lamp isn’t lit, something the keepers would never allow.  There are three men manning the lighthouse: Oliver Drake, Robert Shaw, and James Woolf, who is the youngest.  Demarion implores Parker to go out to the island and investigate.  Parker agrees and takes a small boat moored on the pier.

(Side note: during the transition to Fetch Rock, we are treated to a partial reading of the poem “Flannan Isle”, based on real life disappearances at a lighthouse.  This event and poem likely inspired the game’s story).

Trewarthan at night.

 

Upon arriving at Fetch Rock, Parker finds that it is indeed dark inside the lighthouse.  Once he gets the interior lights back on, he ventures further up the lighthouse to discover what happened.  Mysterious shadows dart through the corridors, and Parker has a run-in with a ghostly voice that identifies itself as Robert Shaw.  The ghost laments being unable to protect the younger keeper, James, and tells Parker that Drake has gone mad, as if possessed by a demon.

The ghost vanishes and Parker continues exploring.  He finds no signs of anyone, but does discover a unsent letter from Woolf to his beloved.  In it, Woolf describes how Drake had gone mad, moaning to himself in the bowels below the lighthouse.  He tells about how Drake came after them and seemed to transform into a colorful glow.  As he was transfixed by the impossible vision, Woolf heard a name in his mind: Malakai.

He later came to with Shaw in a barricaded room, but Drake came for them again soon after.  James’ last words are that he can see the light under the door…

Continuing upward, Parker makes his way into Drake’s room where he finds the man’s journal.  Drake mentions a dream eerily similar to the one Parker had, right down to the flaming comet of metal.  But in Drake’s, he sees the object falling into a bed of reeds, which reminds him of an etching somewhere in the lighthouse.  Drake complains of a headache one day shortly before the journal descends into maddened gibberish.  Drake starts rambling about a “master” and dotes on Parker as being instrumental to his plans.  He conspires against the other keepers, saying that his master needs them to “feed”.

The journal ends with a creepy “I see you, Parker” scrawled across the page.

 

Cute.

 

In Drake’s desk, Parker finds a drawing showing a path leading to a cavern.  He makes his way down to the ground floor and across the rickety wooden planks.  He enters the cavern, led on by ghostly whispers of “this way” and “over here”.  Upon reaching a caved-in tunnel, lines of color suddenly crawl across the rocks.  When Parker leaves the cave, he notices things are different.

And not just anything…everything.

 

 

The entire island has changed.  Parker enters a small building just a little ways away from the cavern and finds a machine projecting images on to a sheet, a radio, and a mystical, wondrous device full of such magical power that-

 

 

Okay, it’s just a laptop.  But come on!  Imagine how crazy that would be to someone from the beginning of the 20th century.

Anyways, it doesn’t take long before Parker discovers he’s in the year 2004.  Somehow, he was thrown through time almost a hundred years into the future.  The lighthouse is now a tourist attraction, but it appears to have closed down for the day.  And a storm looms on the horizon…

Making his way into the gift shop, Parker finds a plethora of books and music.  One book in particular catches his eye: Horror at Fetch Rock.

 

 

In the book, Parker discovers that after he disappeared off the face of the world along with the three lighthouse keepers, the resulting investigation concluded that Parker must have murdered the keepers.  Demarion covered everything up, denied any involvement with the proceedings, and placed the blame squarely on Parker (although it seems that, over the years, Demarion was suspected of being involved in some way).

Parker also finds letters and a journal written by a woman named Polly White.  It turns out Polly is a ghost hunter who believes the lighthouse is haunted.  She also believes that she is the reincarnation of James Woolf, the youngest lighthouse keeper.

(Side note: Polly White is actually a character from the first “Dark Fall” game.  Fortunately knowledge of the first game’s story is not essential here.)

In the journal, Polly describes how she was led to the lighthouse because of her dreams.  It didn’t take long for her to experience some unexplained activity, such as a chair throwing itself across the room.  Along with her journal is a creepy recording of a hypnotic regression session she went through, which is what led her to believe she is the reincarnation of Woolf.

Continuing through the lighthouse, Parker discovers that history has not been kind to him.  He is portrayed as a troubled soul who likely murdered the keepers in a fit of madness.  There are numerous signs with details about the duties of lighthouse keepers, how a lighthouse operates, and some bronze age relics.  As he makes his way up the stairs, Parker finds that the rooms have been dressed up for the guests, with the crewroom featuring a voice re-enactment of the keepers’ final night.

Suddenly, Parker hears someone dart out of sight farther up the stairs.  A dropped journal entry reveals that Polly saw Parker enter the gift shop and is trying to hide.  Continuing up the stairs, Parker finds that she has locked herself in what used to be Drake’s room, but is now a storage room of some sort.  She slides a piece of paper under the door for him, which leads him back to the little building outside with the laptop.

There he finds the “Radvision” goggles, which let him see ghostly phenomena.  But they also serve another purpose: by using them on certain objects, Parker can travel back to 1912.

 

I see a bad moon a-rising

 

After some sleuthing, Parker finds a section of wall behind the boiler in 1912 that transports him to another time period.  In this time, the lighthouse is no longer standing.  A foundation remains, but most of the structure is now gone.  Parker follows a hole in the wall and climbs down an elevator shaft, finding a futuristic tablet belonging to a man named Gerard Magnus who works for the D.E.O.S. organization.  Continuing through a metallic tunnel, Parker finds another tablet from someone named Maria Ortega, who complains because Magnus has begun acting weird ever since he started working in the elevator shaft.

As Parker makes his way deeper into the facility, things start to fall into place, and a narrative eerily familiar emerges…

 

 

D.E.O.S. stands for Deep Exploration of Space, and is a scientific organization that launches probes to study, you guessed it, cosmic bodies and phenomena.  But things haven’t been well since the disappearance of their most recent probe.  According to the log of one Mitsuyo Taku, someone has been skulking around her room.  She suspects Magnus because, like Ortega, she has noticed him acting weird.

She has also noticed someone on the cameras…someone who seems to glow with an unearthly light…

Taku hatches a plan.  She decides to use one of the crew’s birthday party as a ruse to gather fingerprints.  Everything seems to be going fine, although spirits are down because of the lost probe.  However, Taku writes about a brief confrontation between Magnus and Cobin Hart, the overseer of the probe project and the one blamed for the lost probe.  Hart is lamenting the loss when Magnus starts acting weird, muttering things like “he is calling to me”.  The party eventually breaks up, but soon after Taku returns to her quarters the lights go out and alarms start ringing.  Evidently, soon afterward everyone vanished, just like in 1912.

But more telling is the name of the lost probe: Malakai…the very name James Woolf heard in his mind.

Malakai was apparently the fourth probe D.E.O.S launched and featured an advanced AI system as well as something called Matter Manipulation Software.  This would, according to Hart, theoretically let Malakai generate power from anything it wanted.  The probe was launched into deep space and encountered some type of unknown matter.  When it tried to jump back, the probe vanished without a trace.

So now Parker knows: Malakai is behind all the mysterious events and disappearances.  But where is the probe itself?  The answer lies back in 1912 with Drake’s journal.

In the journal, Drake mentioned that his dream featured a bed of reeds, which reminded him of an etching.  In Drake’s closet, there is a secret compartment Parker was unable to open before.  But now, using clues he got in 2004, Parker solves the code and opens it.  Inside is the etching of reeds, and when Parker looks at it with the googles, he is transported through time yet again.

 

 

Finding himself in an abandoned bronze age village, Parker finds the cavern once again.  Only this time, he is able to continue down the tunnel.  And there, after all this time, lies the object that he’s been seeing in his dreams…Malakai.

 

 

Apparently, when Malakai attempted to jump back to Earth, the resulting incident catapulted the probe back in time to the bronze age.  It’s been lying there the entire time, desperately trying to find a way back home.  But for that to happen, it needed someone to enter the activation code, a code known only to Hart and Malakai itself.  Using clues he’s found throughout the times he’s visited, Parker manages to decipher the activation code and enter it.

Malakai then ascends into the sky before the scene shifts back to the lighthouse.  The lamp is lit once again, the swift beam of light cutting through the gloomy night…

 

Concluding Thoughts

It’s funny.  I still enjoy this game and its story.  But looking back on it, there are some things that could have been fleshed out more.

For instance, the history of Fetch Rock itself.  We know from Demarion at the beginning of the game that the island has a cursed reputation and that the building of the lighthouse was fraught with strange accidents.  But since the Malakai probe would have been there since around prehistoric times, there must have been other weird things going on throughout the island’s history.  Why not flesh it out some more, give it more of a history instead of just saying “hey this place is bad news…take our word for it.”

And for that matter, what about Polly White?  Her only purpose in the game is to feed Parker the location of the Radvision goggles.  And yet, she’s given a whole little bit about being a possible reincarnation of one of the lighthouse keepers.  But it’s never touched on again once you get the goggles.

And what about Malakai itself?  It’s vaguely hinted at that Malakai uses the Matter Manipulation Software to “feed” on people for energy, but why do Drake and Magnus suddenly start glowing?  What is the purpose of that?

I could go on about stuff like this, but I think it comes down to the fact that it is a video game first and foremost.  And to be honest, the atmosphere and exploration were why I was playing the game in the first place, not the story.  But in the end, the story was intriguing.  It just didn’t use its potential enough.  I love the idea of ghostly happenings turning out to be advanced technology that people from earlier times can’t even begin to fathom.  I like the idea of a ghost story with a science-fiction bent to it.  It would make for a fascinating novel.  That way the story could hammer home the technology theme by having Parker be the “man out of time” who encounters these strange devices.

I think the story’s biggest flaw is that it ends up being too complex for its own good.  There’s a lot at play here and it doesn’t all connect in a neat fashion.  Part of that is likely due to the game being very low-budget and indie.  But a lot of it has to do with the fact that a point and click game generally tells its story in a non-linear fashion, whereas I think this game’s story could have benefited from being told in a more structured manner.

In the end, I still love the game.  But I think I enjoyed the idea of the story more than the story itself.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for my next short story.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

Kids, Technology, and the Generational Divide

About two years ago a Youtube channel known as The Fine Bros released a video called “Kids React to Walkmans (Portable Cassette Players)”.  You can find the video embedded below:

 

 

As you can probably predict from the thumbnail alone, these kids are absolutely mystified by the Walkman.  One of them even laughs and comments “I feel so judged right now.”  Which is funny, because it seems that’s exactly what the internet did.

Back when this video first came out, I saw it pop up in my Facebook feed every now and then.  It was being shared by people around my age who were usually commenting things like “this is sad” and “how can these kids not understand how a simple cassette player works?”  You can even see this attitude in some of the Youtube comments.  “Wow this is very sad,” comments one person.  “Considering most of them were born in the 2000’s, they should’ve seen VCRs and VHS tapes and cassette players.”  Another person comments “this is not adorable, its sad. walkmans aren’t really that old at all. It’s mainly because of the fact that parents just buy technology so kids can leave them alone. kids now a days lack social skills and problem solving skills. even in this video you can hear the arrogance they have and they are young.”  The person finishes by saying “Prime example of how the future will hold for this generation… brainless and brainwashed.”

Although not everyone has such a negative outlook on things.  One person writes “I feel this is making fun of young childen. How are they supposed to know what a walkman or cassette is? They never seen one in their life. They are all like 10 or younger. It would be like asking me what an [8-track] was like when I was 10. These kids are used to flash drives and ipods.”

First things first: we have to consider the fact that this is a video that has been edited for our entertainment.  Essentially, The Fine Bros wanted to show us the “funny bits”.  And it’s not like they’re entirely oblivious to what it is.  One of the kids gets close to guessing what it is and then another one manages to get it right.  But judging an entire generation based off of a reaction video made for our entertainment seems foolish, especially when you consider that this is but a handful of kids out of a generation of millions.

Secondly, we have to ask ourselves…exactly how clueless are these kids anyways?  Well…probably not as clueless as a forty-five year old adult trying to use a laptop for the first time.

Yeah, that’s right.  I went there.  As this article I found notes, “where older people fear they’ll either break something or change the settings beyond repair, the young understand that everything can be put back the way it was quite easily. Technology doesn’t scare them.”  And that’s just the way it is.  Older people are afraid of breaking things like that because it takes them longer to learn new things.  It’s well-known that as you grow older your ability to adapt and learn new things can become impaired.  So as it stands, children are predisposed toward understanding technology more than adults.

And this whole “technology rotting the brain” attitude the older generation has is nothing new.  Rock and roll was the devil’s music…rap music and video games made kids violent…and so on.  But what does the actual science have to say about the effects of this horrible technology?

Well…not much.

Like the article I linked to above says, the touch-screen era is still very new.  Regardless, it seems that moderation is still a good idea, but some studies have found that there might be beneficial effects to “screen time”.  The fact of the matter is that we as an older generation can stamp our feet and protest as much as we want, but in the end there’s no clear indication that this technology is “rotting” kids’ brains.

Besides, how can we determine all of that from a seven and a half-minute video?  Let’s face it, the Walkman is an archaic piece of technology that has been on the decline ever since portable CD players were introduced.  Sure, you can still buy them at some places, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were introduced here in the United States during the summer of 1980…almost forty years ago.

We were born in an era when technology was jumping ahead by leaps and bounds.  Of course the things we loved and grew up with were going become old and outdated.  Back when I was a little kid, floppy disks were still around, those little square things that could hold barely over a megabyte of data.

 

Yeah…one of those.

 

By contrast, the flash drive I use today for storing my short stories and the like has a storage capacity of four gigabytes, which is nearly four thousand times as much space as a floppy disk.

It’s funny really.  People from my generation will often make fun of our parents and their parents for pining after “the good ol’ days” of the 1950’s.  But in the end, many of us are simply pining after the days of the ’90s and ’80s.  And if technology continues advancing at a similar rate, there’s a good chance that in forty years kids will be looking back at today’s technology with a similar attitude to the kids in the Walkman video.

“What do you mean this can only hold four gigabytes,” they’ll exclaim.  “That’s crazy!  And you’re saying that you actually had to plug it in to use it?  It’s not wireless?  That’s ridiculous!  Man, how did people live back then?”

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Is the “Millennial Problem” Really a Problem?

Millennials, am I right?  Those dang kids and their digital screens and their vidya games and such.  It’s all terrible.  Everything’s terrible.  Society’s going to hell in a hand-basket.

Oh please, enough with the doomsday speak.  Baby boomers were once called the “Me generation” and got accused of giving rise to a culture of narcissism.  Sound familiar?  Gee, it’s almost like every generation thinks the generation after theirs is entitled and bratty.  How about that?

These days it’s all about the “evils of technology”, like in this article from the New York Post.  It starts with a story about Susan and her six-year-old son John.  She starts letting him play Minecraft (OH THE HORROR) and eventually it takes over his life to the point where one night she finds him in bed playing the game in a near catatonic state with bloodshot eyes.  The article goes on to talk about how technology is dangerously addictive, yadda yadda loads of fear mongering bullshit.  I’d just like to point out the obvious here and say that the article has ABSOLUTELY NO CITATIONS aside from a link at the end to buy someone’s book.  You’d think with all these amazing studies totally proving their point that they’d actually be able to, I don’t know, LINK YOU TO THEM.

My favorite line from the article has to be this: “Yet even if a child has the best and most loving support, he or she could fall into the Matrix once they engage with hypnotic screens and experience their addicting effect. After all, about one in 10 people are predisposed towards addictive tendencies.”

I can’t be the only one that found that funny, can I?  It’s so ridiculous!  Of course it’s not the mom’s fault for being a pushover and letting her child continue to use it even though she has serious concerns.  Obviously it’s the technology.  Technology is the devil.

But what really confused me was the ending to this story, which reads “Four years later, after much support and reinforcement, John is doing much better today. He has learned to use a desktop computer in a healthier way…”.  Wait what the hell?  You just spent an entire article telling me about how technology is sucking kids into the goddamn Matrix, but then at the end technology is okay as long as we use it in sparing amounts?

You literally called it “digital heroin”.  YOU LITERALLY CALLED IT “DIGITAL HEROIN”!

Okay, now that I’ve gone completely off the rails, let’s start again.

The whole anti-technology thing is just one complaint people make about the millennial generation, which is also my generation.  We’re supposedly lazy, entitled, and narcissistic.  Yet somehow, we also have a serious problem with low self-esteem.  Huh, I thought that whole “narcissism” and being entitled thing meant that you had an inflated view of yourself.

But hey, what am I saying?  It’s not like there’s this pervasive culture of older people who constantly like to complain about-

Oh wait, what’s this?  It appears to be some kind of digital…recording thingamajig.  Just between you and me, I think they call it a “video”.

 

 

Go ahead, take a watch.  I’ll wait.

Oh hey, you’re back already?  That was fast.  You know what?  I bet you didn’t even watch the video.  Or at the very least, you only watched like one or two minutes of it then came back here.  Honestly?  I wouldn’t blame you.  That snarky comment about millennials wanting “free food and beanbags” about made me want to punch something.

I decided to watch this video after I read an article on Cracked about it (I really do reference Cracked a lot on this blog).  I think I remember seeing it pop up somewhere in my Facebook feed but I didn’t really pay attention to it.  And now that I’ve watched it, I kind of wish I had just left it alone.

You see, Simon Sinek is that kind of guy who likes to sound important.  He uses big, fancy terms like “acculturate” to sound cool when he could have easily used other, less pretentious words.  No, he wants you to know that he’s smarter than you and that, therefore, you should listen to him.

He breaks down the so-called millennial problem into four “characteristics” as he calls them: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment.  And in all four of these, he describes millennials in sweeping generalities.  We’re impatient and we want instant gratification.  We have trouble in relationships because we’re addicted to our phones.  We were constantly told we were special and given participation trophies.  Oh god no, not participation trophies!  Not those!  Oh wait, what’s that?  There’s actual science that says that rewarding effort might not be a bad thing?  Ah but what do those scientists know right?  They only created the technology that led to the computer that you’re now using to read about their work and scoff at them.  They don’t know nothin’.

Sinek then compares using social media and phones to drinking alcohol and gambling.  He says that these things trigger a “hit” of the chemical dopamine, which he describes as numbing and addictive.  Oh my god, EVERYBODY PANIC!  The dopamine is destroying us all and tearing apart the fragile fabric of our-

Wait a second…isn’t dopamine just the chemical that helps regulate emotions?  Here’s a tip: just because it has “dope” in the name doesn’t mean it’s inherently dangerous.

At one point, Sinek says millennials are standing at the bottom of a mountain, and at the top are things like fulfillment and job satisfaction.  Oh goody, simplistic mountain metaphors!  It’s what I’ve always wanted!  Anyways, he goes on to say that millennials often don’t see the mountain.  They just see the peak.  Because apparently we’re so dumb we don’t understand how mountains work.  Well I guess he wouldn’t be a viral sensation if his stance on things was “eh, they got problems just like anybody else”.

I have to say though, one of the most infuriating parts of the video comes about eight and a half minutes in.  He talks about meeting all these idealistic people who have just graduated college and started a job.  And he talks about how they tell him they want to quit, to which his response is “you’ve only been here eight months”.  Only eight months?  That’s obviously not enough time to tell if the job is a right fit for you.  No you should totally stay there for at least five years.  Only then you can decide that the soul sucking drudgery might not be worth it.

I like how the audience laughs at every joke he makes, like it’s the funniest damn thing ever.

 

Ha ha ha he's so right ha ha ha those dang kids don't know what they're talking about!

Ha ha ha he’s so right ha ha ha!  Those dang kids don’t know what they’re talking about!

 

I also like how Sinek simplifies things by not paying any attention to the real issues.  Like how millennials are saddled with insane amounts of student loan debt.  Or how they can’t work a minimum wage job and go to college without taking out federal loans.  Or how the cost of living is much higher now than it was forty years ago and United States households overall are poorer.  No, it’s all because we’re so entitled and want instant gratification from our Facebooks and our Twitters and our Instagrams.  It must be nice knowing you can generalize an entire generation and people will go along with it.

And then, after ten minutes of millennial bashing, Sinek says it’s not our fault, it’s the company leaders who need to change and fix the problem.  We were just “dealt a bad hand”, as if that washes away the aforementioned bashing.  Wait, who is this guy again?  Hmm…well apparently his Facebook has this to say: “Described as ‘a visionary thinker with a rare intellect,’ Sinek teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast majority of people go home everyday feeling fulfilled by their work, Sinek is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.”

So in other words, he’s a motivational speaker/leadership consultant?  Ah crap…

Yep.  He’s that same type of guy who would show up at your school and try way too hard to make you think he was relatable and “cool”.  He would tell you all about being “dynamic” and “vibrant”, or whatever other buzz phrases were floating around at the time.  And of course, since his expertise is on leaders, he just HAPPENS to come to the conclusion that this whole “millennial problem” is the fault of CEOs and other company leaders.  He might as well turn to the camera, hold up whatever his latest book is, and say “it’s in stores now!  I’m a total sellout, but you’ll buy it anyways!”

Now let’s get to the point: there is no “millennial problem”, there’s just millennials.  We’re just like any other generation trying to find their way in the world.  You can’t just write off an entire group of people like that.  And I’m sorry to have to say this, but the 1950’s weren’t exactly the golden age of America either.  People only think that because advertisers have spent the last half century drilling nostalgic images into our brains.  I won’t lie, there are some among my generation that get absorbed in their phones and their social media accounts.  But the thing is, most of those people are in high school and maybe college.  By the time we graduate from a four-year college, most of us are aware that constantly looking at your phone isn’t going to fly in the working world.  Because guess what?  We are capable of observing and learning what the world around us expects from us.  We don’t need some “leadership consultant” to tell us how to live our lives.  But then again, maybe I’m just not vibrant or dynamic.

Sinek is right about one thing though: we were dealt a bad hand.  Things cost more and jobs pay less.  So no, we don’t think we deserve everything.  Most of us just think we deserve a chance, which is more than a lot of older folks seem to be willing to give us.  And if you don’t like my attitude or think I’m being ungrateful, then you can take some of the advice you so lovingly passed down to us as we were growing up:

Deal with it.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

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Innovating the Future: Why Science is Important

Once upon a time we had a dream that we could fly like the birds.  And we realized that dream.  Then, we had a dream that we could ascend beyond the clouds and even beyond our world.  We realized that dream in April of 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and the first man to orbit the Earth.  Later on, we dreamed that we could send a man to the moon, and President Kennedy even promised that we would before the 1960s were out.  He was right.  On July 21st, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon.

All of these things were made possible through science.

But there are a lot of people who don’t like science.  They say that scientific theories haven’t been proven, all while reading a two-thousand year old holy book with little to no historical backing.  They claim that science classes are brainwashing the kids, yet are comfortable taking a four-year old to church and telling them that their god is the only god.  They hold up faith as some unassailable idea, angrily asserting that questioning it is an attack on religious freedom.  And yet they claim that non-believers are the arrogant ones.

 

But I digress.  I don’t want to turn this post into an anti-religious rant.  I understand that the people I described above are not indicative of all religious folk.  But there is a point to be made in all this.  Science is still important today, and even if you are religious there’s no reason to fear or hate science.  There is nothing in science that says God does not exist.  The theory of evolution is not an attack on God or necessarily even a competing theory.  The issue does not come from science.  The issue seems to come from those who take a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Anyways, even if you don’t follow science or believe what it says, there’s no denying that it has given us many things.  Let’s look at NASA as an example.  NASA, through partnerships and experimentation, has actually been responsible for many different innovations and inventions that we use today.  Do you sleep on a memory foam mattress?  That material was originally used to insulate aircraft seats and absorb the energy of crashes, courtesy of NASA.  Do you have a cordless drill?  The cordless drill originally came from a partnership between NASA and Black & Decker.  Have you ever gotten an MRI?  NASA invented the digital imaging technique that eventually went into the creation of MRIs.

Smoke detectors, cameras, water filters, cochlear implants (for people with hearing loss), and so much more have come either directly or indirectly from the actions NASA has taken.  “Wow,” you might say, “NASA must get a lot of money from the federal budget if they’ve produced so much.”  You wouldn’t be alone in that line of thinking either.  Polls have shown that some people in the United States believe the NASA gets an inordinate amount of money from the federal budget, sometimes as high as twenty-five percent.  But that’s simply not true.  Usually the figure hovers around a measly one percent.  It was at its highest during the space race in the ’60s, and even then it was only around four and a half percent.  By contrast, our defense budget is much larger.  In 2011, defense spending accounted for twenty percent of the entire federal budget.

The point is that science experimentation and innovation has led to practical applications in our daily lives.  You may not agree with the scientific worldview, but you have still benefited from it even if you don’t realize it.  Some people attack science daily while benefiting from it at the same time, which is such a strange concept to me.  I don’t agree with religion, and yet I admire the artwork it inspired.  It seems to me that some people see science and religion as exclusionary worldviews when they’re simply not.  There’s no scientific theory that says all religious texts are invalid, nor is there any scripture (as far as I know) that says science is incontrovertibly wrong.  There is sometimes an intersection between the two ways of looking at the world that people tend to overlook.

It just seems hypocritical to be claiming that science is false while it makes your life easier and more convenient, you know?

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post and as always, have a wonderful week!

Hard and Soft Science Fiction: The Connection Between Technology and Society

Last week I made a post comparing the genres of science fiction and fantasy.  To those who know me or follow this blog, it should come as no surprise that I am a bigger fan of science fiction than fantasy.  I find fantasy sort of boring, at least in its modern incarnation.  It’s been reduced to the point where it’s always swords and sorcery in a medieval style world.  And there’s dragons of course.  There’s always dragons (kinda like how every horror movie these days has to involve demons…but I’ll leave that for some other time…the at least five other times I’ve complained about it).

So while fantasy has never really struck my interest that much, I’ve always enjoyed science fiction.  There are, in particular, two big categories for science fiction: hard and soft.  Hard science fiction focuses a lot on scientific accuracy and technological advancement, placing emphasis on the details of the technology rather than its impacts on society.  Soft science fiction generally deals with the social sciences: psychology, sociology, and so on.  It also focuses on the impact of technology on a societal or human level.

But calling these two separate sub-genres of science fiction would be doing them a disservice.  In fact, most scholars of science fiction tend to agree that the two of them are pretty much present in almost all stories.

Let’s use a modern example.  Take Andy Weir’s The Martian (which is being made into a movie that’s coming out this fall in fact).  On its surface, The Martian is a hard science-fiction survival story.  It follows NASA astronaut Mark Watney as he struggles to survive on Mars after being presumed dead by his follow teammates.  A large portion of the story is devoted to Watney brainstorming ways to grow food, generate oxygen, generate water, and so on.  It isn’t until past the first hundred pages or so I believe that the soft science fiction aspect of the story comes into play.  It’s when (minor spoilers ahead) the people back on Earth realize that Watney is still alive that we see the more societal aspect of the story.  It’s also well represented in Matt Damon’s voiceover at the beginning of the teaser trailer.  Take a listen:

 

 

So you can see that while the story (at least in the book) places a lot of emphasis on the scientific details of survival on the red planet, it also touches on the aspects of society banding together to help someone in trouble.  As Damon says in the trailer, “if a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people coordinate a search”.

But The Martian is by no means the only place we see this intermingling of hard and soft sci-fi.  2001: A Space Odyssey is a movie well-remembered by many people, even if only for the LSD light show at the end that lasts for almost ten minutes.  Despite the incredibly metaphysical nature of the movie’s ending, there are a lot of elements of hard science fiction in there as well.  The depictions of space travel are incredibly accurate for the most part, with the shuttle docking sequence and the depiction of the time it would take for the Discovery to travel to Jupiter.  There’s another example that you can see in the book version as well.  In the book, Dave Bowman and Frank Poole aren’t headed for Jupiter, but rather for Saturn (the location was changed for the movie because they thought making Saturn’s rings would have been too expensive).  To make it to Saturn in decent time, they preform a slingshot maneuver around Jupiter, using the gas giant’s gravity to propel them toward Saturn, and all without wasting too much fuel.

Despite all this, there are stories that embody mostly one or the other type.  For soft science fiction, a great example of this would be Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, a book which takes place in a dystopian society where books are banned and everyone spends almost all their time watching television.  There are no great attempts at describing future technology and how it works.  Farenheit 451 is probably one of the closest to pure soft sci-fi.

Hard science fiction is a little harder to find.  The Martian is a great example of hard science-fiction, but to get closer to pure hard sci-fi, we’d probably have to look in the direction of the Mars Trilogy, a series of books by Kim Stanley Robinson which chronicles the colonization of Mars in painstaking detail.  I’ve never read any of the books (nor will I most likely…I never much cared for that type of story), but from what I’ve heard about them, they are mainly hard sci-fi.  There are still elements of soft science fiction in there (the books are set in a future where Earth suffers from overpopulation and an ecological disaster, which is what prompts the colonization of Mars), but the stories seem to mainly focus on the technological details of colonizing and terraforming a planet.

Like most genres and sub-genres, hard and soft science fiction aren’t mutually exclusive.  They mix and match to make impossible worlds seem plausible.  They use technology to show us a side of ourselves that we’ve never considered or perhaps wanted to ignore.  War, poverty, interstellar travel, environmentalism, and more all have a place under the banner of science fiction, which is probably why I like it so much.  Science fiction is the genre that has a lot to say, if we give it the right tools to say it.

Escapism is the main reason we enjoy fiction and literature, and sci-fi is great at it.  But sci-fi is great at revealing the truths in the world around us, even if they are not always to our liking…

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!