Games People Play

4

Now, I’m not very old. Compared to a butterfly, or a hamster, I’m positively ancient. But compared to you, I’m probably not very old at all. However, the world has changed so much in the last decade or two, that I feel old. I feel like the guy in Quantum Leap, lost forever in a time and place not my own. Most of this is due to the encroachment of technology on our lives, especially communication technology like the internet and mobile phones. It’s changed us as a society, and not for the better.

Pictured: Me

Pictured: Me

I have friends, people I’ve known for twenty five years or more, and they’re like strangers to me now. They’re glued to the phone in their palm or the iPad in their lap. I can’t hold a conversation with them, or watch a movie. Their eyes flicker away from mine. Our words are cut short by intrusive beeps and bloops. We may sit in the same room, but their minds are somewhere else.
Arguably these people have somewhat of an addiction to their phones or Facebook accounts, so they don’t wholly represent modern society, but this type of behaviour is becoming more and more acceptable, if not the norm.

"Nothing like a day at the funfair, eh, girls? We'll miss these times when we're grown up."

“Nothing like a day at the funfair, eh, girls? We’ll miss these times when we’re grown up.”

When I was a kid, we never really used the telephone, and of course mobiles didn’t exist. Well, they did, but they were the size of a briefcase and if you had one it meant you were either a stock broker or a drug dealer. It seems silly that these days, the first question someone is asked when answering the phone is “where are you?”. Just ten or fifteen years ago, the question would have been absurd. Phoning someone required that you knew exactly where they were. In the hallway of their house, most likely. Unless they had a phone in their bedroom. Which of course they didn’t.

Anyway, we never used the phone to talk to each other. You’d say “See you Friday” or “I’ll come over tomorrow” and come Hell or high water you were there. The invention of the mobile phone, or more accurately the text message, allows people to remotely and voicelessly renege on their promises. We all have that friend, or in my case friends, who do this. The fickle and capricious bastards!

It never used to be like this. When I was young and the internet ’twas but a gleam in Tim Bernard Matthew’s eye, my friends and I would meet up and play (*cough*, I mean, hang out) after school. We’d wander around the block, or play soldier in each other’s gardens.

Amazing how he had found the time to invent the world wide web AND travel the seven seas!

Amazing how he found the time to invent the world wide web AND travel the seven seas!

I’m going somewhere with this, so get comfy for story time, kids.

We enjoyed such mischievous and timeless games as “Knock Knock Ginger” (adjust the name for your region). This involved walking up a stranger’s garden path while your friends cowered behind a parked car or round the corner. You’d knock on the door, then run like hell and rejoin the pack. After the old biddy who lived inside undid her twelve or fourteen separate locks and stepped outside, you’d giggle and wet yourself as she blinked in the harsh daylight like an owl disturbed from its slumber. Disappointed that it wasn’t her son returning home from the war, she’d turn around and go back inside while you exchanged high-fives with your collaborators.

Other such outdoor pursuits included “Sitting in the Road”. We’d sit in the middle of the road on a conveniently-placed manhole cover and await a vehicle. Of course, the roads weren’t as busy back then so sometimes we’d be waiting all afternoon. When a car did approach, we’d test our mettle and endeavour to be the last one to abandon our position. This normally wasn’t me. Funnily enough, the drivers of the cars didn’t seem to find this game quite as hilarious as we did. We were often threatened with a swift and painful vehicular death.

"You damn kids! I'll run you over if I ever finish paying off this car!"

“You damn kids! I’ll run you over if I ever finish paying off this car!”

One time, my next-next door neighbour (he lived two houses up) and I established our own detective agency. We’d walk around the block, looking for evidence of recent crime. I had a camera, you see, to create an irrefutable record. I also had a walkie talkie, but just the one. Fortunately, my friend also had a lone walkie talkie and they worked on the same frequency. Using the Morse code button, we’d attempt to send coded messages back and forth, but in reality it would rapidly devolve into incomprehensible dotting and dashing, before one of us would get fed up and just ask what the other was trying to say. It all seems a bit pointless, looking back, as the range of the walkie talkie was far inferior to the range of the human voice.

We weren’t cavemen, we had computer games and stuff. But for the most part, our days were spent outside and our imaginations filled in the blanks when high adventure was nowhere to be found. It disturbs me thinking about just how much of my childhood wouldn’t have been possible if the internet or smartphones were around.

Certainly, our detective agency would never have gotten off the ground. Why use Morse code, or tie a message to the cat’s collar, when you can text from anywhere? Phones have cameras too, and bloody good ones at that. Back then, a camera was a novelty – it took eight weeks for me to get my pictures back from the lab, and half of them came out solid black.

"Dammit, Jane! I don't want excuses! These pictures of Grandma's birthday have to be PERFECT!!"

“Dammit, Jane! I don’t want excuses! These pictures of Grandma’s birthday have to be PERFECT!!”

I can’t imagine growing up knowing exactly where my friends were and what they were doing, or having our parents able to call us at a moment’s notice. Heck, these days if you played Knock Knock Ginger, the lady answering the door would probably film you with her iPhone and upload it to your mum’s Facebook. Or send it straight to the rozzers. That technology would’ve ruined my childhood.

But Adam, you say, think of the benefits! A world of information at your fingertips! Think of today’s children, and how much they will learn!

To that I say bullshit. I learnt plenty as a kid; I was pretty smart. I read books and I payed attention, I joined the Scouts and went to museums. That was enough. Anything left over was probably arcane, or stuff I just wasn’t meant to know.
For example, my friends and I, we’d sit in the treehouse and ponder what a girl’s privates looked like. This mystery formed a considerable chunk of my youth and adolescence. Nowadays, the answer is but a keystroke away on any computer or phone.

"I have a WHAT!?"

“I have a WHAT!?”

One thing’s for sure; my kids are gonna have a hell of a filter on the computer. I may just block Google altogether. Oh, and Wikipedia. Maybe all images, ever, just to be safe. Of course, maybe the world will change again before I have children. There’ll be another paradigm shift, and things like the internet and computers will be ancient history. The iPad will be a dusty old paperweight, and the kids will mock it.

“You use your hands? It’s like a baby’s toy!”

“Size of a briefcase”

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4 comments on “Games People Play

  1. You know Adam, I agree and disagree at the same time… I am older than you and can remember a time before mobile phones and the internet, I remember my ZX80 being cutting edge tech, And if you told me I would one day have a computer that fit in the palm of my hand, that was 1,000 times more powerful than my beloved speccy…I would of shaken my head and dismissed you as some kind of loon. I have grown up with technology, I remember the BBC computer being introduced as part of our studies towards the end of my last few years at high school, watched at how video-games have advanced 100 fold since my early gaming days, and I love the digital age, the internet, and online gaming and communication. That said, I did grow up without these and had a childhood more akin to yours in that I did ‘hang out’ with friends in ‘real life’ as opposed to mainly digitally, so there is much to be said for both side of this advancement in tech. As always I really enjoy reading your stuff good sir, have a great evening.

    • aniblack says:

      Thanks for your opinion on the matter, Bruce! Fascinating to hear another perspective.

      I’ve never seen a ZX80. I had an 81 (with 16K ram pack!) but of course by the time I was old enough to use it, it was ancient history. I had some bloody good times with it and my Spectrum, though!
      This probably says more about the under-funded state of education in our country than it does me, but we were still using the Beebs in MY high school!! Bloody ridiculous, really. Our teachers were like “Windows ninety what now? Get back to your eye-breaking green display, heretic!”.

      Maybe I just have an old soul. Or maybe its nothing to do with technology, I’m just set in my ways. Once again, it always surprises me how you and I, superficially quite similar, view things in such different ways.

      To expand on your point – we did have similar childhoods. People born in the 60s, 70s, 80s or even 90s all have a common ground. But I think that things moved so fast, technology took a quantum leap, that there’s no going back – maybe the popular image of a childhood is a thing of the past. It makes me wonder what kids will write about in twenty or thirty years time.

      Anyway, thanks for reading, it’s always appreciated!

  2. Samchu Prime says:

    I also agree and disagree with your opinion.

    I agree that technology has gotten out of control. People don’t talk to each other anymore, everyone always has their face in their phone (don’t get me started on the fact it feels like everyone has the same ring tone. Seriously! You play a generic ring tone in a shop and I promise you at least 8 people will stop and get their phone out to see if it was them!), typing away or calling someone or checking their Facebook. Some woman smashed her trolley into mine in the shops once because she wasn’t watching she where was going, then tried to have a go at me about it! The nerve!

    However, what I disagree with is that technology isn’t /all/ bad. Sure, kids would rather snapchat each other or facetime than actually meet up despite living about 2 minutes away from each other, but if the internet wasn’t as diverse as it is now I would never have met so many people in my life. I’d never have met my friend in Canada that got me into roleplaying, I’d never have met my Irish friend through her and through both of them I would never have met my significant other from Texas. Without the internet, I’d probably still be wondering what America was like, I’d be unable to have fun with my otherworldly companions.

    The internet is what you make of it; it has brought people together, it has pushed people apart. It has caused controversy, it has found missing people. It has shunned people, it has praised people. Depending on how you use it depends on what outcome you get from it.

    My down point of todays society is like I said before, nobody really /talks/ anymore. They’ll talk on the phone, they’ll text, they’ll Facebook chat, they’ll facetime, they’ll Skype. But talking face to face seems to be a dying art. Before when I did the shopping with my mum, if someone wanted to get to something that the trolley I was pushing was blocking, they’d ask, and I’d move. These days, people will come up, update their Facebook status about some “fucking asshole in the shop blocking what they want to get”, then they’ll walk over and instead of ASKING they’ll either shove me out of the way or awkwardly lean around reaching for the item and wait for me to get the hint, then mutter something under their breath. If you say anything to them, they “chav up” on you with all the quick talking and swearwords and such that has unfortunately become the norm now where I live.

    Yeah, apparently calling someone a ‘fucking trampy slut’ is normal now when you politely say to the person to just ask next time.

    Anyway, I have rambled on, I shall leave it there.

    Commz.

    • aniblack says:

      Samchu! You’ve changed your nom de guerre! Since when were you a Prime!?

      You make many a fair point. In some ways I am a massive hypocrite, were it not for the internet we would never have met. I’ve learned so much, (especially that time I turned safesearch off. Blark!) that I probably wouldn’t be who I am today were it not for the interwebs.

      And I agree that our generation has witnessed somewhat of a rapid social decay. People are getting ruder and nastier. Probably because our society tolerates such behaviour.

      Abandon country! Stop the England, I want to get off.

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