Monday, October 5, 2009

Virtual Reality or Real Reality?

Drop by our house some afternoon or evening and you'll likely find several of us engaged in some type of electronic entertainment. In our family of four we have three computers, one Wii, two Nintendo DS and one Nintendo Gameboy. Wow. When I was my son's age we were thrilled to play my brother's Atari 2600. We spend a lot of our recreational time engaged in digital, virtual activities. I think we are not unusual in this regard. I wrote some time ago about the effort I had to exert to avoid seeing all my time absorbed by Facebook.

I don't think that playing video or computer games is inherently sinful. At times it provides a good way to relax, though like any activity this can become excessive and even addictive. But a recent message from a friend of ours who lives and works in one of the world's poorest countries caught my attention. She wrote:

"What [we] were discussing at the table tonight was that it makes me sad to realize how much effort, time and creative energy get sucked into virtual realities and video games when perhaps what people are really longing for is to come somewhere like [here], to be part of something that takes more than they can give, to sap all their brain cells trying to absorb a new language, to engage with reality . . . if only more of all that creativity and resources could be channeled into quests like disaster relief, education, peace-building, or providing basic sanitation and health care. Easy to say, harder to get off my chair or leave my laptop and go out..."

This statement resonated strongly with me. In the developed world we invest huge amounts of time, energy and money into entertainment, particularly into virtual entertainment--activities that accomplish nothing at all but which sap resources that could be used to accomplish good in a needy world. In light of what I recently wrote about responding to poverty, this contradiction really struck me. How much easier it is for us to sit in front of our computers and "exercise" our brain cells on virtual activities than to go out make a difference in the world. The latter requires much more creativity, energy, resourcefulness and dedication, but the rewards are also significantly greater. So many people are looking for that "great adventure" in cyberspace (and, I think in a similar vein, in extreme sports) when it is waiting for them already, if only they will get up off the chair and go out...

How can I make a difference in the world today?

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