A couple of summers ago, I read the newer science fiction book Ready Player One. I realize there’s also a movie that came out based on the book, which I haven’t seen, so I don’t know how similar it is.
But the story is set in the year 2045 in a dystopian society that has basically gone virtual. The entire world is part of a “globally networked virtual reality” called OASIS where people work, kids go to school, kids and adults play their games and explore new “worlds” – all from inside their own homes. They have groceries delivered straight to their houses, they can use virtual exercise programs to stay fit, pay for everything with virtual money – there really isn’t a reason to go outside – and in fact, the world is so dangerous that people don’t want to go outside.
The story focuses on one teenager who is working his way through the biggest video game challenge of all time, which – if he wins – will make him the wealthiest person in the world.
It’s a very engaging read (although there is some language to be aware of) – and it’s also chilling, as so many science fiction books are.
I love science fiction books for that reason. They take an aspect of our present reality and project it into the future based on where things could go and show us the devastating consequences of following that route – especially with dystopian societies (such as The Hunger Games and The Giver).
And when I read this book, I kept thinking, “This could happen. With all of our digital resources and virtual reality, this is where our world could be headed.” And it was scary to think of a world where no one left their houses and instead stayed inside hooked up to machines all day.
And then the COVID-19 crisis hit.
And it suddenly became clear that although it seems like the world described in Ready Player One has become our world, it won’t stay that way permanently – at least not anytime soon.
Yes, we are forced to do everything digitally now – work from home, school from home, shop from home. And how grateful I am that we have the technology to do so.
But perhaps one of the things we needed to be reminded of through this crisis is how valuable it is to be in person with one another – and how needed it is.
I’ve seen so many beautiful posts reminding us of all the things we won’t take for granted after all this is over. And I so hope it’s true.
Because the world is aching for what each of us was made for – and which can never be provided through electronics and the Internet …
… the endorphins in our body that are released when we are hugged – or kissed – or have our hands held.
… the connection of our souls when we look into each other’s eyes and communicate without saying a word.
… the surge of energy that comes from doing something as a group – whether that’s learning a dance together, playing a sport together, sitting in an audience experiencing a powerful story together, lifting our voices in worship together, or marveling at fireworks together.
… the light bulb of understanding that comes when a concept is explained in person by a skilled teacher.
… the love of a community coming together to mourn a loved one’s passing or celebrate a new life or a new marriage.
These shared experiences – these moments of holding and being held – these are what make us human, and these are what God made us for. He made us to be a community – His people – a people that together, across our myriad of differences, reflect His multi-faceted character.
I had this moment on the last day of school before we closed for six weeks where I had a little group of about ten students around me doing a Round Robin story. Each of them wrote a sentence of a story according to my direction and then passed it to the next person who added another sentence to their story and so on.
And they were giggling about what they had written and what their friends had written and were so excited to write the next thing down – and I held that moment in my memory, savoring it. This was not something that could ever be replaced by technology and virtual learning. We were sharing an experience that could only happen in person – building a friendship and bonds of closeness that only came about through our physical presence.
There isn’t a day that I wake up in this crazy quarantine life we now lead that I don’t miss them and long for the time when we can have that experience again.
I think everyone feels the same way.
And thus, I’m convinced that we don’t have to fear the isolated world of Ready Player One. Because once it’s been experienced in all its terrifying loneliness and hunger for connection, nobody would ever choose to willingly go back to it.
Because just like the book says, “My heart felt like it was on fire. I took a moment to work up my courage; then I reached out and took her hand. We sat there awhile, holding hands, reveling in the strange new sensation of actually touching one another.”
God has created us to hold one another, so that we might find greater strength, deeper love, and sweeter comfort.
So I pray that when all this is over, and the bans have finally been lifted, we might all come through this stronger on the other side, more grateful for what we’ve been given, and more intentional about holding each other close – physically and emotionally.
It is such a gift.