By Nury Vittachi
Sometimes I hit a raw nerve. Several readers complained about my criticism of Grand Theft Auto IV. This is a youth-oriented computer game in which players get points by committing extremely anti-social acts such as armed robbery, substance abuse and making poor clothing choices.
Hey—what I really meant was that I don’t need this game because I get quite enough of this sort of thing at home already.
Most of the letters of protest can be summarized as follows: “Dear Idiotbrain, there is no scientific evidence that violent video games make people violent, and if you continue to make such ridiculous allegations I will have no option but to shoot you, chop the corpse into tiny pieces and blow up your building. Love from Jin-Jin, aged 10.”
Well, to all the Jin-Jins out there, I have absolutely no objection to boys turning themselves into mindless killing machines, providing you all take your guns and go and live on some isolated continent miles away from me. (Oh, you have done? You’re in America?)
The most interesting response came from a philosophical reader who said people have been scared of new technology since the time of the ancient Greeks.
Actually, he makes a fair point, and his timing is good. Today, June 2, is the anniversary of the day Guglielmo Marconi (known to his friends as “the nerd with the unpronounceable first name”) filed his patent on radio transmissions in 1896. Marconi’s invention triggered howls of protest from people who said radio was dangerous new technology which would stop people reading and writing.
Similiarly, in the 1950s, there was a campaign against typewriters because they would “depersonalize communications between businessmen”. This is an obvious fallacy: whoever heard of a businessman with a personality?
In the Victorian era, there was a campaign against erasers because they would stop students thinking deeply before they wrote. Now, come on: has anyone ever seen a student thinking deeply?
Two millenniums ago, Socrates campaigned against reading and writing. In those days, wisdom was delivered exclusively through something called “oral tradition”, which basically meant Men With Beards Talking.
Socrates warned: (a) If people started reading and writing, their memories would wither from underuse; (b) they would read out the words of Men With Beards and look cleverer than they really were, and (c) the world would become democratic, upsetting the elite.
Socrates was right, but he could not foresee that East Asian leaders would have the ability to keep their faces straight while telling people who have waited 2,400 years for democracy that they are “too impatient”.
But anyway, Socrates’ criticisms were ignored, and so were the criticisms of people who wanted to ban radio, erasers and typewriters. Has society been dumbed down?
Actually, I think it has. Consider this. When Marconi died in 1937, the world wanted to do something to commemorate his work. You know what humanity decided to do? They took every audio broadcaster off the air for two minutes. To celebrate the invention of radio. Ouch.
When I think of that, I can’t help but hope that humanity dies off soon, so that the world can be re-colonized by a more intelligent species, such as mushrooms. But if Jin-Jin is still around, he will probably shoot them.