Virtual Reality

By Arturo Corso
The other day my eight-year-old asked me if she could have her own cell
phone. Hardly a moral crisis, to be sure, but it did knock me back a
step since our typical conversations center around the identification of
characters in Disney TV shows which should not be imitated when speaking
to adults. This first in what is sure to be a series of heartbreaking
rites of passage visited me as we gathered a peculiar assortment of
school supplies for Fall. (How many waterless soap dispensers does one
classroom really need?) I suggested she was far too young to become
enslaved to such a fashion accessory and directed her instead to a
lovely assortment of sale-priced animal stickers for her two-pocket

My opposition to adolescent cell phone ownership is not that of an
insensitive disciplinarian. Quite the opposite – it is a philosophical
one. Between the PC, the internet, iPod, GameBoy, and the like,
individuals have become more and more disconnected from one another,
even as we plug into the most fantastic technological advances of
humankind. It seems to me the last thirty eight years (my lifespan to
date) have seen more innovation than the two thousand years that came
before. The more we discover technology that delivers independence and
autonomy at the click of a button, the less we seem to rely on one
another. Is this is the end of humanity? Not necessarily, but this
social disconnect may be one reason parents find it difficult to, well,
parent. We don’t impart the lessons anymore, Miley Cirus does.

These were my thoughts when, through anguished facial contortions, my
only daughter explained that all her other friends already had cell
phones. I really should have been ready for that argument, but could
only come up with, “Name one!” Just as I was about to explain that some
kids in the world have neither a cell phone nor running water, her
mother – ever the peacemaker – proposed a compromise not unlike the Oslo

So now we have a Wii.  A Wii (pronounced “wee”) is the latest electronic
gadget marketed as a way to bring families together while actually
highlighting the digital divide between parents and kids. Still, knowing
my duty to spend the family’s stimulus check in the local economy, I
gave in to peer pressure and abandoned my life-long aversion to video
games. We set it up in no time at all, finally discovering the purpose
of all those colorful plugs on the front of our nearly obsolete tube TV.
Even as we powered it on, I was still convinced I was the epicenter of
cool in my little girl’s eyes. She months ago had discovered that my
favorite digital playlist includes Stroke 9’s “Little Black Backpack,” a
90’s alternative rock ditty revived on playgrounds around town through
the magic of Kids Bop and other re-branding machines which target
children’s spending power by appealing to the concentric circles where a
parent’s and child’s tastes coincide.

Gaming technology has come a long way since PacMan. The basic Wii
package comes with bowling, golf, and a “fitness age” scale. Through a
series of virtual athletic tests, the Wii concluded that my Wii fitness
age was, wait for it, 56. Ouch. Don’t get me wrong. I am equally
comfortable at a Crosby, Stills & Nash or John Mayer concert. But for a
recently cool dad still hanging on to the last trimester of his youth,
it was devastating. Now I know the truth: no matter how extensive your
music library may be, you need only be schooled once in virtual bowling
to fall from grace in your daughter’s perfect eyes. I’ll keep working on
it but that human disconnect is looking better all the time.

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