Over the weekend, I read a story about a gamer making a “cool half million” flipping a “virtual” property. Virtual property? Since when did fake real estate built atop a fake asteroid fetch $635,000? Compare that to the ridiculously low amounts being offered for real property (here on the planet Earth) in previously high-flying real estate markets.
Granted, those markets were suffering from a little irrational exuberance prior to the housing bubble, but their lots still offered tangible items like sticks, bricks, dirt, etc. And last I checked, I can’t grow vegetables on virtual properties built online. Farmville anyone?
You know Farmville, the Facebook application where participants pour hours of real world time plowing, planting and harvesting virtual crops for virtual gains. You can grow the size of your farm by increasing the number of neighbors, or if you can’t convince your virtual friends to be virtual neighbors, you can just give Facebook your credit card and they’ll gladly convert $20 to virtual acreage. Then you can plant even more crops to harvest even bigger gains towards that ultimate goal of…what is the ultimate goal again?
It’s Time to Get Our Hands Dirty Again
My kids are like a lot of kids these days, and many adults, too. They don’t necessarily mind work, but they don’t want to get dirty, or cold, or sweaty. They don’t mind sitting in front of a computer building virtual empires, or leading their favorite football team to the Superbowl in Madden 2010. But don’t ask them to toss a real ball, or swing a real hammer.
It’s too hot. It’s too hard. I might get hurt. There are bugs. It doesn’t pay enough.
I’m not exactly sure where it all started, but I distinctly remember a number of virtual “advancements” that seemed to encroach on our real world activities. They made us a little lazy, a little soft.
For example, when I was growing up, I remember parents scrimmaging against their kids at soccer practice. In fact, my grandfather was goalie for the parents’ team during scrimmages. We even ordered him a jersey with “Papa” on the back, number 60 (his age at the time). Now, most parents sit in their cars during practice, checking their fantasy football stats on an iPhone.
I’m guilty, too. This past season, I actually enjoyed the hour my daughter was practicing soccer because it was the one hour of the day I could tilt the seat back, turn off the radio, the telephone, the computer, and just rest. Maybe that’s the key. Maybe if we all unplugged and rested a bit more, we’d have time for true recreation. Not virtual fishing, but real fishing, complete with fresh air, smelly bait and muddy grass under our feet at the shore.
By the way, by the end of the season I had remembered my grandfather participating in all my practices, and made it a point to play soccer with my kids’ teams when the coach asked for volunteers. I learned a very important lesson – soccer was much easier when I was a kid!
We’ve Come a Long Way, or Have We?
Like I said, it’s tough to put a finger on the point where virtual connections became more important than real connections. Where virtual products and services were preferred over tangible ones. Where virtual reality was more engaging than our own reality. It has been more of a gradual decline.
Consider the following tug of war matches currently being fought in our society between the old-fashioned farts like me and those advancing new technologies and services:
- Virtual books (Kindle) vs. real books. Disclaimer: I own a Kindle, and while I do like it, I miss real books. I miss the way an old book smells. I miss looking at the cover, seeing the occasional photos included in a biography, making notes in the margins, and bookmarking my favorite sections. I think I’ll eBay this Kindle and go back to hardcovers.
- Email vs. real mail. Letter writing is officially a lost art. When was the last time you received a handwritten letter from a friend or loved one? Receiving a new email isn’t exactly an exciting event, but I can still remember how special it felt to receive a handwritten note from my mom while away at school, along with a few goodies for the dorm room.
- Debit cards vs. cash. Spending cash hurts. The physical transaction of a twenty dollar bill leaving your wallet and being placed into the hands of a cashier registers far more in your brain than swiping a piece of plastic. Debit cards are more convenient, but if you need to get a grip on spending, go back to cash (while you still can).
- Second Life vs. real life. I’ve never understood these virtual reality games. Why invest so much time and energy building something that only exists in a virtual world? I’d rather spend that time building something I can see, and touch, and enjoy in the real world. Doesn’t matter if it is a birdhouse or a real house.
- Online learning vs. classrooms. I attended a traditional campus for the first two years of college, but finished my undergraduate degree several years later using an online degree program. It was nice not to have to go to class at end of a long work day, but some things were lost in the online learning world. I experienced very little interaction with other students, and missed professors asking me why I had a puzzled look on my face because I didn’t understand something, but was unwilling to raise my hand and ask the question.
- Ipods vs CDs vs tapes vs records. That’s right; record albums. Remember those? Records, and even tapes and CDs, used to be made more special by the cover art, the lyric inserts, etc. I remember my mom enjoying looking through old record album collections…remembering how she had to hunt all over for the album, the first time she put it on her record player, etc. Can’t exactly get that from a download from iTunes.
- Physical gold vs gold stocks and ETFs. Gold and silver are hot commodities these days, and many are scrambling for new ways to own both. My grandparents and great-grandparents also thought a lot of gold and silver, but preferred to hold actual coins. My great uncle even collected a few nice silver pieces. They thought certificates guaranteeing your gold was being held somewhere else was about as worthless as used toilet paper. Wonder what they would have thought of the many “investment” products created today that merely track gold and silver prices, but have no tangible assets to back it up.
- Virtual friendships vs real friendships. Social media has helped connect many people who may not have otherwise been connected. In fact, the phenomenon known as blogging has connected you and I. But I still highly value offline friendships. Close friends and neighbors are the ones you can turn to in times of need, and likewise, you can be there for them.
- Digital pictures frames vs. real pictures. Digital picture frames are neat, aren’t they? You take a bunch of photos, put them on a memory card, and stick it into a digital frame. The frame loops through dozens of photos, instead of just the one you’d see in a glass and paper frame. I still like real, hardcopy pictures. I’ve been going through many old photographs since my grandfather passed away, several that are 30-40 years old (and older). I’ve enjoyed reading the notes my grandfather wrote on the back of the photos – the date, who’s in the photo, a little story to accompany the picture. Can’t get that on a digital frame. Which makes me wonder; what will our kids and grandkids have to remember us? Will the portraits of our lives be reduced to a single CD of digital images?
I don’t mean to be a complete wet blanket. I am all for technological advances, but I also happen to believe that in many cases, change does not equal progress. I guess when it comes right down to it, I am old-fashioned. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
My mom and grandparents used to talk a lot about the “good old days.” My grandfather used to joke there wasn’t much good about them – especially the times we were at war, suffering through a depression, his family’s lack of now-modern conveniences like indoor plumbing, electricity, etc. But there were good things about those times, things I wish we could enjoy today.
More families stayed together. More families played together. Kids played outside, and for the most part, they could do so safely. People were more reluctant to get too deep in debt. People knew their neighbors. People trusted their government (well, for the most part). Kids respected their teachers. Music was still music. We gathered at the table every night for dinner. We moved slower. Life was just – simpler.