The Robots are Winning
(A little tale about fatherhood and video games and the end of humanity)
A few years ago, when my son was about seven-years old, maybe eight. I gave him a little bit of a scare. I had picked him up at school and was taking him to karate and all the way there he was rambling about this video game that he loves and that video game that he loves. Like any attentive father I listened and I shook my head a lot and I tried to come up with questions about something I knew nothing about. But everyone has their limits and finally after a solid hour or two of chatter about video games, I finally reached my limit. I turned to him and said, "Okay. That's enough about video games for now. I want to know about you. How was your day? How was school? What did you do there today?"
He looked at me blankly. "Nothing." he replied.
I'd honestly love to know what these kids do at school all day that when you ask them, they always say, "Nothing". If they're really doing nothing, then I'd really like my thirty thousand dollars back. Just think of how much rum that could buy. The truth is that he didn't do "nothing" at school. The truth is that he did nothing involving video games.
We stopped at a pizzeria on sixth avenue and twenty second for a slice.
Within a minute or two he was back at it, ranting and raving about what race he was on World of Warcraft and who he conquered in Civilization, who he "force-pushed" in Knights of the Old Republic and he described in vivid detail his goriest kill in Gears of War. "That does it!"
I took him firmly by his wrist and pulled him out of the pizzeria and onto the sidewalk, for effect. I held out my pointer finger to signify how important what I was about to say was and I shook it menacingly towards him.
"Listen," I said. He looked up at me a bit aghast by the whole affair. I stood hunching down to look into his eyes and he was rigid and motionless as hundreds of New Yorkers rushed to and fro around us. And I began.
"In your lifetime, there is going to be a war between the humans and the robots. And you need to decide right now what side you are on." His eyes widened.
"Yes, right now," I insisted. "Are you going to be a slave of the robots or are you going to be a master of robots?"
He was speechless. I pulled out my cell phone and I flipped it open. "See this,?" I said. He shook his head. "This," I continued, "is a robot."
Now his expression changed and he looked incredulous. "It is," I insisted. "When I want to make a call, I don't hit a bunch of numbers like I used to in the old days. I just scroll down to your name or your mother's name or my friend's name and I click on it. And this little robot makes the call for me. Once upon a time I used to have dozens of seven-digit phone numbers in my head. If I wanted to call my mother or your mother or the studio where I worked, I simply typed in the number by memory. But now? Every year that goes by, I know fewer and fewer numbers. Why? Because I don't have to remember them anymore. This little robot remembers them for me. And because of that, I'm dumber than I used to be. I'm weaker than I used to be and I rely on robots now to do a lot of things I used to be able to do for myself. This little robot now knows all of the phone numbers of my family and friends and colleagues and I have to hope that he will give them to me when I need them. Remember when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center? Cell phones stopped working. Back then I could still remember your mother's phone number so I ran to a pay phone to call and make sure you were both okay. Eventually I won't be able to do that. Eventually I'll not be able to remember any phone numbers at all. I won't be able to call for help. None of us will. And the robots will have won."
My son grew up with these kinds of crazy, bizarre outbursts from me so it only took him about thirty seconds to gather his thoughts on the matter. He looked at me very matter of factly and said, "I'm going to be a master of robots."
"Good!" I said firmly.
"And I'm going to enslave them and force them to make video games for me to play."
It's pointless to argue with the boy, really.
That was several years ago. I'm getting married this year. My fiance and I have already moved in together. I was recently at Home Depot buying paint for our apartment. When I got to the check out line I found that they had installed a "Self Checkout Counter". I was intrigued, but not enough to use it. Nonetheless, an employee of the store came over to encourage me. She didn't say much. This chubby, Hispanic lady waved me over with the least amount of enthusiasm possible and told me in as few words as she could that she would show me how to use it. I wondered if she knew that by doing so, she was slitting her own throat. No doubt she used to be one of the tellers and once enough people knew how to check themselves out, she'd be out of a job completely.
She showed me how to scan the barcode. She showed me where the cash goes into the machine. And when it dispensed the correct change in both bills and coins I was truly amazed. As I was walking out I said to her, "This thing is amazing! Eventually we'll be able to get rid of those pesky humans entirely."
Her half-hearted smile dissipated leaving her looking simply bewildered.
My son is now eleven. His love for video games has waned. He now favors the miniatures game Warhammer 40,000. I support this hobby as it involves artistry and creativity and doing things with ones hands like painting and building. The other day, we were at his place. We were going to have dinner with my fiance in an hour so he had a little time to get some Space Marines painted. I helped by gluing a giant, robotic arm onto a Dreadnaught. My phone beeped. I had forgotten to plug it in the night before and it was running out of batteries. I picked it up to call my fiance and it took it's last breath and expired. "No worries, " I thought, "I'll call her on the land line."
And then it hit me. I couldn't remember her phone number. I mean, I knew it once. It's got a five in it and a seven and a couple of ones and I think and eight and maybe a four. I had made a point of memorizing it years ago when we first started dating, but over time I guess I stopped thinking about it and just pushed the little button on my phone that said, "Jayme". I tried every combination of the numbers I knew were in it, but none were the right one. And then I just had to accept it...
...the robots are winning.