Over the Christmas break I found a new game on my iPhone called tiny tower. The premise is pretty simple: build your own sky scraper, populate it with people and businesses, rinse and repeat. It’s wildly addictive in that you can spend tons of time in the game earning money and building more. It’s amusement at its finest. And thats why I stopped playing.
Amusement is good in small measured doses, not in vast quantities. The carnival or county fair only comes to town once or twice a year. Any more than that and it would lose its novelty and amusement. But I’m afraid that this natural law of diminishing returns isn’t as obvious in the virtual world.
As I played the game and built my tower, I began thinking about this little empire that I was building. It brought momentary pleasure to see my tower grow to 30, 35, and then 40 floors. But as soon as I turned my iPhone off, my building disappeared. It only existed virtually. And I began to wonder why I spent 20-30 minutes a day building something that will never be real. In reality I don’t know that building a real tower would provide much more satisfaction, but at least there would be something real to show for my work.
What I’m realizing about life is that unless we are engaging with real things and people, we will not grow. When we don’t grow, we get anxious and depressed. Life is not designed to be lived in the virtual world, even though the virtual world offers a painless and entertaining life.
Relationships are not amusing. They are challenging, difficult, and rewarding. Virtual rewards are just that, virtual rewards. It takes hard work to live life on the real world, which is why there exists an enormous quantity of escapes to the virtual world. Because these worlds are so accessible, we need to be aware of how much and when we use them.
One of the ways my family is combating this issue is that we do not use devices with screens between dinner and bedtime for the kids. This means no tv, wii, games on the phone/iPad, etc. it’s been harder than I thought to follow through with is. It’s easy to grab your phone and check Facebook, the news, your tiny tower, or any number of apps that are a daily part of life for some.
If amusement is bringing less and less to your life, create something. Build a Lego tower or town, write a shorty story, bake a cake, paint a picture, or start a new relationship with someone. Obviously this is a short list, but the idea is that life will be more fulfilling and enjoyable when you do something in real life, instead of the virtual world.