I’ve always liked things that were easy. One of my dark secrets is that I’ve often run from challenges.
What I see now is that the things that were easy — many of which people praised me for — fed my ego and nothing more. The only things I’ve done that still matter to me were those things that were difficult. My ego was inflated when I’ve taken the easy way. I’ve grown in more healthy ways when I’ve forced myself to accomplish things which required a lot of effort.
Taking the path of least resistance is a losing strategy in the long run, for a person or for a society. It makes you lazy. It makes you passive. And it leaves you living a fantasy life which is brittle — a life which falls apart when reality inevitably puts a real challenge in your way.
I’ve been thinking about all this lately as various companies rush to create simulated worlds. To make it simple, I’m going to refer to all of those worlds collectively as the “Metaverse,” which is what Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg calls his version.
Whatever name you use for it, these fake worlds are ultimately unhealthy for individuals and for society. A simulated world is good for only a simulated life. In an increasingly fake and passive world, we need more real-life thinking and participation. We don’t need more digital imitations of life that turn us into passive spectators stuffing our faces with snacks as we wander through a fake world.
When I was young, I got away with doing easy things — and getting praise for them — simply because “normal” things seemed easy to me. In school, I never took notes. I never studied. I ignored homework when I could get away with it. Everything was easy.
But I didn’t push myself to do things that were harder. I just wanted praise — and I never took chances on things which might cause me to fail. Even in college, I chose to study journalism, history and political science, simply because they required no real effort for me. I flirted with majoring in engineering, philosophy or physics, but those would have required me to work. So I passed on them.
As a result, college was essentially a waste of my time. And I put myself far behind where I should have been — because I had to work harder in my 20s to start achieving the things I wanted. Life was harder for me for a long time because I hadn’t taught myself at a young age to live up to my capabilities.
My point here is that we have a choice — as individuals and as a society — about whether we’re going to be passengers if life or if we’re going to drive the bus instead. People who take the easy way become passive passengers, just drifting along on paths that other people create. They might live comfortable lives, but they never become something special. They never create anything new.
People who choose a more difficult path — consciously choosing to reject the easy path that others take — drive their own lives forward. They can take chances. They can create new things. They can think for themselves. And whether they succeed or fail, they are masters of their own lives.
The Metaverse is just the latest in a long line of intellectual bubblegum to be offered to a culture which is getting dumber and less competent every year.
The warning signs have been all around us for many decades. Ray Bradbury saw it in the early days of television back in the 1950s. He envisioned a future society in which nobody thought for himself and in which entertainment — which could take up all four walls of a room — dominated people’s lives.
That’s the core premise of Bradbury’s short novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which most people today misinterpret as being primarily about censorship and book burning. It’s about one man who starts to become troubled by the mindless nature of his world — and who sets out to teach himself to think and to figure out the meaning of life. He begs his wife to join him in this quest, but she’s tragically too far gone.
This book was life-changing for me when I first read it as a teen-ager and I’ve continued finding more new layers of meaning in it over the years. I’ve begged people to read this book and to think about its meaning — but I know that almost none of you will have the least interest in spending a couple of hours reading it, much less thinking about what it means.
This isn’t because you’re stupid. It’s because you’ve become accustomed to being spoon-fed easily digestible junk which doesn’t challenge you.
I find that there’s a massive difference between people who read and think for themselves and people who drift along on the waves of pop culture, enjoying whatever entertainment is sent their way. It’s not that one group is necessarily smarter than the other. It’s simply that one group has surrendered the joys of thinking and living an independent life.
People constantly tell me about some new entertainment they’ve found and try to tell me why I should try it.
“This is different,” they’ll say. “Most stuff isn’t good, but this is really good.”
Well, of course, it’s good. There’s a constant flood of really good entertainment. Even if you confine yourself to high-class entertainment that’s popular with snobby reviewers, you will fill your life with so much entertainment that you’ll crowd out the time you should be reading and thinking for yourself.
Of course, there’s great entertainment out there. Supremely talented creators are paid a lot of money to get your attention for the companies which want to buy your time. It’s not that entertainment is “a vast wasteland,” as some people claim. It’s that it’s filled with beautiful, shiny trinkets which will take up more and more and more of your time — until you no longer have the time or energy to think for yourself (and your attention span is shot).
I’m not arguing that life should be nothing but drudgery and serious thinking. I love fun quite a bit. At times, I enjoy some mindless entertainment, too. The problem is when so much fun pushes the rest of life out of the way — it becomes your way of life — and life loses its meaning as you turn into a mindless consumer. You’re no longer an independent thinker choosing your own life and finding your own meaning.
The so-called Metaverse is another step down this dystopian road. First television, then social media and then virtual reality. These steps have been building on one another. They are slowly crowding out the “alone time” that we as individuals need to read serious books and to think for ourselves — and to talk with other people about ideas.
And the further we go down this road, the more people are turning into passive consumers who just “ride the bus” and complain that they don’t have enough choices.
You can choose to make your life whatever you want it to be. It’s not easy to go against the tide of popular culture, but you can do it. What’s more, the future of the world depends on some people choosing to be among the thinkers and doers. Those people will be needed more than ever when this dysfunctional culture collapses on itself in time.
There’s nothing ultimately wrong — in isolation — with television, movies, social media, gaming, virtual reality or the rest. But when these forms of entertainment slowly take over your life — and when they own your children’s lives — you won’t know it until it’s too late.
If you’re waiting for a sign, let this be your warning. Take control of your own life and your own mind — before it’s too late.