iPad’s, Virtual Worlds & The Meaning of Life

December 28, 2010

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As some of you may already know. I’ve been using the Apple’s Ipad for a while – I have to admit, it took me a while to warm up to the idea, nearly 6 months passed before I even decided to open the box. And to be honest, I was very skeptical- I suspect a big part of my cynicism stemmed from that sanguine seen that, done it and even got that T shirt attitude. 

Despite my initial reservations, I do have to admit there are many things going for the iPad culture – but this has nothing to do with the ipad itself as it has everything to do with the economy that drives the idea – truth of the matter is so much that is written today has already migrated online – newspapers, magazines and books. So what choice does one really have in the whole say of wanting to continue to read on real paper? I think most people who continue to insist that paper will rule come what may, simply haven’t bothered to do the math – when one considers that the cost benefits of plumbing to go from paper to digital, its a no brainer – the latter wins all the time in terms of formatting, speed, variety and most importantly, cost.

But will this shift be a positive development in human culture? I can only speak in terms of having used the ipad for the last 4 months. On one hand, although I acknowledge that a device like the ipad offers remarkable opportunities for self-expression and generally getting stuff on the go. On the other hand, having a limitless field of possibilities to choose from can at times be daunting and here there is a danger of being swarmed by a tsunami of noise and distraction.

I am not one of those who believe the iPad will change the world radically; so it may be a good idea for us to reframe the whole ipad versus paper debate as one where it may even be unrealistic to expect a clear winner and loser to emerge – observation suggest just like that other ancient writing instrument, the pencil, both paper and the digital page can subsist along side each other –  I find this line of argument most agreeable as it accords well with my own experience of having used the ipad and not been able to quite ween myself off physical paper – and while reading on the iPad is certainly fun and closer to the literature equivalent of l’art du déplacement – there are limits, for one, the iPad doesn’t lend itself to serious reading which requires concentration and discipline, here less is more, but the iPad simply has too many distractions (maybe its just moir)- that it’s almost impossible to sustain the focus that comes intuitively with books.

In the final analysis, no review is complete without the man who uses the machine – to me, the very idea that a handful of sexy microchips, aluminum and glass can somehow alter me along with the world borders somewhere between mumbo jumbo and effrontery; an attempt even at appropriating my right as a member of the human species – while true in very sense that I don’t see us ever returning to the physical page after iPad, any more than the steam engine is going to make a come back. I don’t expect the iPad to change the world that radically – that’s because whenever people postulate about whether this or that technology will change the world; they often discount the human condition not realizing that its usually the most important link in the causal chain that shapes everything.

As far as the human condition goes, it too has its own governing program. During my university days and early years of working for example, I found Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” true in every sense of the word; the clarity of thought Impressed me. The notion that the human being is a rational animal made perfect sense, and I internalized it as a basic assumption. You could say in those days, I saw the world prosaically, in very matter of fact terms.

I now find myself interrogating many of those ideas that once formed many of my assumptions, and I must admit the questions that I ask often fit awkwardly into the Singaporean landscape. Is it really true that the unexamined life is not worth living? And is it accurate to say that all there is in life is to aspire to live the rational life?

I do not know how far I wish to go on demystifying these thoughts that I have carried with me most of my adult life. All I will say is it started some 6 years ago, when I began noticing a shift in my character – I started to dine alone; this might not seem odd to most people; but to me, that was reason enough to suspect that might have been the point where I may have renounced my membership from the human tribe – shortly after that, I began to use my mathematical skills to submerge myself deeper into the virtual world, it was as if every layer I passed posed yet a series of awkward questions about the whole meaning of life, which required me to go beyond to the next level. 

It would not be entirely wrong to say my adventures in the virtual can be viewed from two distinct vantages – from the reasoned eye of Aristotle, I had perhaps lived a life of dissipation, exhausting vast amount of my intellect on nothingness; often cultivating the friendship of unworthy people who were less than desirable – then again from that other vantage where I would question the usefulness of ideas along with things, it cannot be doubted that my forays into the virtual may even have ranked alongside the great epic journeys of lore. You see I saw many things – some of which I cannot even explain as words are finite – for instance whole communities who developed their own language using sound waves complete with phonemics which allowed them to communicate silently virtually undetected – an underground culture where people would just built stuff that kept on moving frictionlessly – and much more, but nonetheless these experiences helped me to understand how wrong it is for us to even try to impose our own beliefs, prejudices and sentiments on those things that we know very little about – most importantly they allowed me to resolve that nagging question that Aristotle once posed – is it true to claim that an unexamined life is not worth living? Perhaps, but even if one’s life is filled with meaningful things they do not mean anything in and of themselves – neither do they have any intrinsic significance or value over the lives of those who we often consider unexamined. They simply are what we wish to call them. This idea of value and worthiness is hard to explain, even harder to grasp, but one thing is patently clear, its self selecting – what for example is the worth of a castle in the virtual; sure one might say that one cannot reside it it, in the physical sense – but the question that is seldom posed is why would anyone want to do that? 

That is not to deny that nifty tools like the iPad will not have the power to change the world – if I were to use my schizophrenic mind to review the iPad – the Aristotle mind would probably conclude that in 5 years everyone will be togging one of these nifty gadgets – they would be as indispensable as the ubiquitous mobile phone is today.

The other side of my brain would probably conclude iPad’s and the genre they belong too will always remain mere tools and very little else; some may conclude, reasonably, that I have become enamored with what I have seen in the virtual – that my intellect has even been seduced by imaginary worlds, intrigues and distant places that only exist as digital pixels – if they are right. So be it. I can live with that summary. There are after limits to reason. And I am glad to have discovered where the line begins and end.

Darkness 2011

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“Who are you stranger? How do you know how to speak our tongue? How long have you been watching us?”

“Shssss…one question at a time, my name is Darkness…..what is your name?”

The Valley of the Whispers – somewhere in the 7th level of Kildron – The Book of Ages – The Brotherhood Press 2010.

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