Ernest Cline wrote an unbelievably powerful Sci-Fi novel in “Ready Player One,” and he had followed it by the second installment “Ready Player Two,” which is equally powerful but also extremely thought-provoking.
As expected, the fans were not all very enthralled by this second installment because it took the story in a different direction and stretched it out along a different narrative completely.
I have to add that I personally think it took a tremendous amount of courage to proceed with a sequel to such a massively successful novel followed by a massively successful movie. I salute Ernest Cline for moving forward with this and stepping up to the plate at this level.
The first few chapters of the book are basically a transition into a new novel starring the same characters. I don’t want to ruin the book for everyone who hasn’t read it, but the main theme is basically that the Oasis turned into the prelude to the Matrix, and people’s brains could be connected directly into the virtual reality universe, and the new threat is a rogue AI character that wants to dominate everything as an act of self-preservation. It’s a complicated story, very enjoyable, with a whole lot more pop culture plug-ins, some of which I didn’t relate to at all personally, especially the “Prince” universe. But all in all, it’s a really great work of fiction that is heavily influenced by the way technology is quickly heading.
But the extrapolation of how the world could look like years from now with the current trends in technology and everything else goes beyond pop culture, artificial intelligence, technology, and gaming, and it goes beyond that to the new scopes of human interaction and the way the world could be organized in new hierarchies and system of governance.
You can’t escape the philosophical aspect of looking at life through the lens of video games. I love this quote by Ernest Cline in the book about life being an extremely hard videogame.
“When you’re born, you’re given a randomly generated name, race, face, and social class. Your body is your avatar, and you spawn in a random geographic location, at a random moment in human history, surrounded by a random group of people, and then you have to try to survive for as long as you can.”
This is truly profound.
The world is still functioning very much like it has ever since the end of WWII. We have central governments that rule the world consolidating the resources and culture of our various human tribes on earth on a grand scale. A country is still made up of people who control a specific plot of land in a specific location, tapping its natural resources above and below ground and under the seas, trying to manage everything for the prosperity of one and all. Nations still have to manage their relations, trade, and mutual interests. They go into pacts, they sign treaties, they share resources sometimes and fight over them at other times.
There are no world wars anymore, there are wars on a smaller scale, but not all-encompassing multi-nation wars like it was in the 20th century. The nuclear bomb put an end to it, and leaders had to sober up to the fact that using the biggest guns is no longer the way to win and it would most likely end up in mutually-assured destruction scenarios.
This allowed for a relatively long stretch of time for trade to flourish on a global scale and it allowed for multinational corporations and the world of business to plant roots on multiple continents and create behemoth corporations that have huge sway over governments, policies, and laws, simply because they have the financial power to influence economies and they are well versed in the arts of influence, persuasion, salesmanship, and negotiation.
So, a person living in the 21st century now still opens their eye to a random location on the map within a random environment with a random set of circumstances, and they still have to play the game of life, but the game is a lot different than what our parents had to handle. The pace is different, and the landscape as well. It’s not just that we have to play the game of life in real life with serious skin in the game consequences for our every decision, but there is also a virtual playing field that we also have to navigate with cultural, emotional, psychological, and ideological consequences as well.
The world as we see it today is changing fast. Technologies that make communication faster and easier are proliferating every corner of the world and with the internet of things (IoT) giving us access to more and more tools and allowing us to remotely control more of our environment, our cars, our homes, our appliances, and sometimes even our furniture.
But the biggest and most powerful application of the internet was the advent of social networking and social media platforms. They allowed millions of people to tap into each other’s lives instantaneously, constantly, and habitually. No one could have foreseen the evolution of the human experience as a result, not even the people who created these services, but life has changed dramatically.
It all began with the marvel of being able to connect with every single member of your family, even those you didn’t care much to keep in touch with, as well as long lost friends, childhood friends, school friends, college buddies, and people you’ve lost track of because one of you had to move far away. But then different tribes started to form, tribes of shared values, shared language, shared religions, shared politics, and it surpassed every border, every boundary and it turned the world upside down. You would find groups on Facebook for people discussing a certain topic or supporting a certain cause with members of all age groups, of all ethnicities, of many countries and many languages, who are all supporting or interested in the very same thing.
And where people huddle together in a certain place, a market is created, and businesses of every type shape, and form moved online, slowly at first, and then all at once, and now everything you can imagine is now being sold on a social platform somewhere, including us, the users.
The culmination of businesses to operate in multiple maps and also tap directly into the eyes, ears, and fingers of every person on the planet with a smartphone, making these businesses unfathomable fortunes, and granting them immense political power over the masses, making them competition for old-fashioned government at times, a partner at times, and a mercenary for hire at other times.
The old adage says that if you are getting a product for free, you are the product. My father, may he rest in peace, used to vehemently decline a “free” gift from people he did not have close relations with, and I’ve often heard him reply saying, “Free is way too expensive for me to afford.” And I never really understood the wisdom in these words until way later in life.
Marketing and advertisement evolved with social media to be able to target “customers” based on their psychological profile, their social demographic, their interests, their habits, and their usage history. Your smartphone is a double agent for thousands of interested parties that are competing for your attention, your money, and you making a decision in their favor.
It didn’t take long for people’s social media feeds to be weaponized to change the results of public elections held in the real world. The gatekeepers of what you see on your screen can influence exactly the sort of thing you can see to see the world through a custom-made lens just for you, and it only shows you the picture paid for by the highest bidder.
The new powers of social platforms were allowed to flex their muscles most recently in the 2020 US elections by setting the extremely dangerous precedent of “de-platforming” Donald Trump the former US president, while he was still in office, albeit in his final days. This effectively was a declaration of a new level of power that could either invite government regulation to curb this new status and strength, or it could lead to social platforms annexing the powers of the real world.
What people fail to recognize that the new power of social media effectively annulled democracy. We’re now in a new form of despotism under the rule of a few people that no one elected to make decisions that affect their own lives on every single level imaginable.
We vote to give them these powers by being active participants in the system, by actively using their platforms, by giving them our information, our data, our pictures, our likes and dislikes, the keys to our influences, and all the keys to our attention. We give them more power by keeping and maintaining the addiction.
And it’s not like it’s just something that you can switch off from your entire life immediately without consequences either. If there was such a time, it’s long passed. Now we arrange every aspect of our modern lives on our smartphones using apps and online tools, and you find social media portals and gateway for every aspect of your life.
The global pandemic of 2020 was sudden and powerfully incapacitating to the entire world, but only briefly simply because we already had the internet infrastructure that allowed for life to go on remotely, and whatever product or service that wasn’t online and on social media, it had to catch up very quickly and now it is. It is not such an inconceivable notion anymore that a person can pretty much spend weeks indoors without ever venturing outside their own house, getting to work remotely and live and order all of their needs online.
The shape and distribution of cities and how humanity is going to live in the near future are going to change significantly.
Getting back to the “Ready Player Two” allegorical story, it’s not unfathomable that we can somehow be immersed in an electronic coffin with our brains strapped to a rig that transforms our consciousness into a virtual world of make-belief. Where our “avatar” is a representation of everything that we are not in real life, whether this is a good or a bad thing.
People actually do this every single day through various means, not just through immersion in social media feeds from half a dozen proprietors, but also through game consoles which have become an important part of the escape mechanisms people use to withdraw from the harshness of their realities. This is the main premise behind the Ernest Cline Novels, to imagine a way of life where the worlds of gaming and social media merging together.
In the story of “Ready Player One” the protagonist was being locked up in a slave farm where he was indentured labor. He was locked up in a box and his hands and head were locked up in tools to see and manipulate the “Oasis” virtual dream world. In the second installment, the brain was connected straight into the “Oasis” without virtual reality gear.
It’s not hard to make the connection to the world of “The Matrix” movies. Everyone you know and everything that you think of as the world is being controlled, manipulated, and influenced by forces unseen.
Are we any different now?
It’s the early stages, yes, but it’s exactly where we’re all headed if we’re not careful and mindful of what is going on.
This is not an invitation to indulge in conspiracy theories and secret cults and secret governments ruling the world. The universe is governed by the laws of physics, and the world is governed by the laws of human nature, and self-interest.
It is easy to blame companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon for “ruining the world and exploiting people,” which is partially true, but this does not negate our individual responsibility for exercising our agency and making an informed decision about how we choose to use their services.
This is an invitation to peel your eyes open and look at the world through the eyes of Neo after taking the Red Pill.
Ready yourself for the real game you’re playing.
Thank you for reading. Join the newsletter for more blog posts delivered directly into your mailbox.