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So, Ready Player One opened in North America yesterday to what appears to be pretty good reviews, which is no doubt exciting for the book's author Ernest Cline, but it would appear that there are messages within the film that should perhaps give those viewing it some pause.
This dystopian drama is set in the not-so-distant future; in 2045, Earth is a very different planet than the one we are familiar with now. Life is, put plainly, not good: corruption and slums abound, with the rich getting increasingly richer and the poor getting poorer, with little to no distinction between the lower and middle classes. Actually, with that said, maybe the Earth depicted in Ready Player One is not all that different than the one we inhabit now, but I digress.
The world depicted in Ready Player One appears to be one in which people escape in order to cope with their lives. Think about it; in a world where people are working because they are debt-indentured (again, not much different than our current time), or living in abject poverty, or both and more, who would not want to escape?
How much does that idea apply to today's society? We take off for parts unknown when we are on vacation, going somewhere so vastly different from our regular lives that we can forget, even just for a little while, the troubles we have left behind. If we cannot afford a vacation, which is a place that many of us might find ourselves, where do we turn? Dr. Brené Brown says that 21st century North America is the most numbed society in history. We have the greatest number of individuals who turn to drug or alcohol use, or we use food or sex or any one of a number of things to numb ourselves to our own reality.
How is social media any different? The comparisons between Facebook and Twitter and the OASIS depicted in Ready Player One aren't hard to realize. We turn to social media with the argument that we want to connect with people, which may well have been our initial intent, but within 30 minutes or less we might find ourselves suddenly laughing at silly—but adorable—cat videos. Social media is just as much about escape as it could be about connection, and really, the OASIS shown in Ready Player One is merely a kicked-up version of our social media platforms of today.
But there is a cautionary tale to be had here. Are we forgetting what it is like to be truly human? Are we forgetting our most basic need—that of connecting with those like us?
Social media allows all of us to assume any one of a number of guises, if we so choose. We do not have to be the same people we are in our daily lives, and again, that is a choice. We can sound as though we are ecstatically happy, living our daily adventures, when in reality, there is no adventure and only the day to day drudgery that accompanies adulthood at times.
There are those that argue that social media in and of itself it good and that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Forbes writer AJ Agrawal says that social media provides a great deal more awareness among adolescents about the issues at hand in the 21st century, and suggests that perhaps more teens have greater awareness due to their involvement in social media. There is, however, a fine line between involvement and addiction; while involvement in social and political causes can be a very good thing, addiction is dangerous. While some individuals are quite capable of taking a break from social media when they need to, there are those that claim they can quit anytime and yet, always seem to be online.
Such is the case with the OASIS, and it is here that reality and fantasy appear to collide. Is Ready Player One actually a cautionary tale wrapped in the colorful, action-packed package of a science fiction blockbuster? While that remains to be seen, the implications of what our world could be if we continue down the path many of us find ourselves on are truly troubling.