Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The game of life

More breaking cell-phone technology "news," courtesy of The Wall Street Journal. I was thinking how I seem to write about nothing but cell-phone innovations lately, and was going to castigate myself for my futile Luddite obession with resisting it, but in fact, I'm not to blame here. The Journal continues to pump up these "developments" as if they are news, giving the air of triumphal inevitability to these technological tweaks, promoting the advance of cell-phone culture because it's unmistakable good for commerce, if for nothing else. Today's big news? "Videogame Makers Bet That Playing on the Go Will Be Hot," a headline from the front page of the Marketplace section. The idea here is that your cell phone rings you with important information in immersive role-playing games you can participate in: "online play on the go," so that the real world need not impinge on your fantasy world even when you have to go palces in that dreary real world. This is such an obvious fit for my argument that the cell phone is the anti-communicaton device whose real purpose is to encase you in a solipsistic, personally target-marketed bubble that renders all commitment to the outside world inconvenient, a scarily impersonal hassle that I won't waste any words connecting those dots. But what's important is not the idea that Americans might start playing fantasy games on the their cell phones. What's important is that they already have; that cell phones make the responsibilities of everyday life take on a fantastic air of unreality. They encourage the idea that life is already a game, that everything is basically optional and provisional, subject to change at whim and a phone call from anywhere. Cell phones afford the illusion of autonomy and ubiquity, of God like power, that one used to only experience in immersive role-playing games, where you really do have unquestioned power over all the details of your existence in that world. The real world is not so malleable, no matter how urgently cell-phone makers and their shills in the buisness press argue that technology empowers you. The reality of life remains that one is embedded in social networks of power. If one is willing to deal with that loss of total autonomy, who knows what feelings of connectedness, spontaneity, surprise, and meaningfulness one might derive from engaging with something truly other and thus truly unpredictable. But the cell phone reviles all those things; it encourages you to choose the fantasy of total control over all circumstances and encasement in a bubble of one's own narrow preferences.

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