Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Robots are Winning

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. 

"Right now?"

"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.


  1. Great blog post. This all makes perfect sense as a parent we must encourage them to be creative and think for themselves, not to rely on technology. I hear the same things from Dahlia as to what she does at school and it boggles me.

    Much love to you, Miss Jayme, and Mars.

  2. Reading this and things like it always make me wish we lived back in the days of swords and knights and chivalry, without the modern technology. :/

    But yeah, like Jean said, great post.

  3. Great post. I try to get people to talk about this issue whenever I can--how to use technology without devolving into mere mini-bots. Sigh.

  4. That is great - I read this out loud to my other half - I luckily memorize numbers all the time, fascinated with the robots haven't won over me! ha HA! Definitely encourage your son with miniatures!! NO robots involved! (Encourages great creativity and excellent imagination)

    Thank you for sharing this! Your conversation with him about slave to the robots or master of robots is priceless.. well done sir!

  5. BWAH HA HA HA. You are the best dad ever.
    Well, second to my dad. Cpt. Spauldad. :)

  6. I laughed. Mostly because my son is 4 and we're already having those sorts of talks...and it is very much pointless to argue with them when they're being logical.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go copy the entire contents of my phone's phone book into a paper one...

  7. This is exactly what I've been complaining about for years. It goes along with "900 channels and NOTHING to watch!?!" A long time ago we turned the TV off. We rent movies when we want to watch something; when WE feel like sitting in front of the idiot box. I don't follow any TV series, and it confuses my friends to no end. I frequently hear "Have you been watching (insert new popular show here)?" and when I say no, their eyes nearly pop out of their heads, and it's always followed with "Oh, we'll change that!" Um, no. We won't.

    I know how to make my own clothes, grow my own fruits and vegetables, build my own furniture, start a fire, build a shelter, catch clean and cook fish, etc. I learned most of it from reading books. What I don't know, I learn as soon as I have the opportunity.

    I will be a master of the machines as long as I can help it. When it comes time, I will go renegade. I will live in the woods, and be self-sufficient. And I will survive.

    Oh yes, and I will pack my violin so that I have a way to entertain myself when I settle in at the end of the day. As long as I still have a creative outlet, I'll be just fine.

  8. Ah, he's as quick as his father! No wonder you can't win.

    I need to research this Warhammer 40,000. My son's video game obsession is overtaking his creativity.

  9. I sympathize and truly hooray your frustration and effort to explain the robots to your son. My own at the age of 9 beats grown men at complex war games and has done some pretty strange things to the most mundane of games. And, I have gotten the "nothing", answer about school more times than I care for too.

    Maybe I'll try the master of robots argument with him. lol See what he makes of it.

    Just to add another note - I work in healthcare as my "day" job. There the robots are truly winning with each new crop of worker bees. I still remember all the calculations and numbers, but more and more of us do not. Scary thought.

    Thanks for this BLOG!

  10. I fight tooth and nail to get my kids (except for April the chatterbox) to talk about school.

    I once had a bunch of numbers memorized, but even with the job I once had, I depended on my cell phone so much, I've forgotten all but a few numbers.

  11. Great blogpost. It's interesting, because it's something most of us - I am guilty of that one - don't talk about. I try my best to memorize phone numbers still, in case I need to borrow someone else's phone, if I lose mine and such. But in the end, I just can't do it.

    About the "Nothing"-answer.. I tend to say that a lot to my mother when she asks about school. I'm a bit older than your son was at the time, obviously, but for me it's more of a not knowing what to answer to not have to reply to a bunch of follow-up-questions, so it's sort of the same thing. It's not an 'interesting' subject. We kids are all the same to our parents! ;)

  12. Your story made my day so much better. Happy Father's Day Sir!

  13. Keep being a great father. I haven't played video games since the local arcade in town shut down. And I don't miss them.

  14. wow. this is SO true, and yet it's something that people rarely think about. (not excluding myself here)
    some close friends of mine are veteran art teachers/ professors, and increasingly they are complaining about the very same thing- that today's push-button culture and constant spoon-fed entertainment is killing creativity. rather than playing outside or exploring, kids are parked in front of a screen.
    instead of reading a book, they watch a movie.
    convenience comes at a cost, and you've hit on exactly what price that is.
    happy father's day, and keep up the thought-provoking blogs. :)

  15. Happy Fathers Day Voltaire! Great Blog.

  16. I sense a Golden Demon in Mars' future. :)

    Happy Father's Day!

  17. Ha, this reminded me of something that I read. A woman got trapped inside her car, she had trouble breathing after a while, since the windows where closed. So she panicked and called 911. When the dispatcher picked up she told him how she was trapped in the car and had trouble breathing. So he simply asked her "Have you tried to manually unlock the car?" Apparently she hadn't thought of that manually opening it.. Guess humans are being to dependent on technology... Robot apocalypse anyone?

  18. deep an d truthful, as always, Voltaire, I love this, makes one think, it's a bit like I was thinking earlier today, what will your future self think of you as you are today?

  19. So after you came home from helping your son do something artistic you got on another robot to make a statemnt about other robots? heh

    I agree with you, my roommate just got a laptop from a friend and it sucks becaus we used to hang out all the time and do stuff and for the past week I've felt like a litle whiney child sitting on the couch watching him play every last free trial game on his computer and complain about how bummed he is our DSL isn't working because he can't play WoW. I find myself saying all the time "Lets go out, let go for a walk, lets go to the park, bar, museum, mall SOMETHING but lets jst fucking get OUT of the house." And I end up going alone because he can't tear away from a game. He tells me I'm no better because I'm attached to the site I run, yet somehow I manage to spend less time online running my site than he does in worthless games and I become highly offended because at least I can say the time I spent on the net did something for someone, gave something back to someone. My site just donated $92.00 to the redcross and he just dumped $40.00 to play a game. Sometimes I want to hide the power cord to his laptop just so I can remember what he looks like other than a side profile with his eyes glue on a computer screen going "ahh he has 10,000 hip points and i only have 800 I cant beat him!" (does this mean something?) heh.

    Wow I talk too much, Happy (belated) Fathers Day.

    take Care

  20. ha! you remind me of my dad. he does things like that. keep it up, seriously. he may not seem like he's listening, but he won't forget.

  21. wow, totally true.
    im gonna turn 17 soon and i cant remember my dads phone number, and i have only had my cell phone,sam,(yes i name my electronics) for less than a year. luckily my muther thought that video games were a waste of time, and money, and gave our nintendo64 away when i was like 7. i have come to realize that i can no longer do simple multiplication and addition, when i was doing homework and had to double check that 7*4=28. i get annoyed when i have to look up my own phone number on sam.


  22. Technology does generally have us all mushy-plushy brained. But, I am sure when Idiocracy comes true and the water has been replaced by gator-gunk, some fool will attempt to get the human race thinking again. But, unlike the hero of the story, our poor sod of the future won't remember how to access his mind... and, wait one second! Your son grew out of video games?! How on earth did that happen? Mine has a game built into his head and when he can't play his game, he incessantly 'plays' his game by 'air-gaming' with his hands.

    *sigh* Oh man... they really are winning.

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  25. I have this discussion at least once a month!

    Heh, I like the way you put it better though. I just say that people keep getting dumber cause they no longer have to think; you make it far more sinister. ^^

    P.S. I have it easy, I only need to remember two numbers. Which is good, cause I can't remember any of those old seven-digit numbers of my youth...

  26. Amazing article! And it is so true! Makes you really think about the impact of modern technology on our lives.. I have seen firsthand how technology can sometimes cause a lot of problems, more than they are meant to solve actually.. this really does make me think.. thanks for this.

  27. LOL Mars sounds just like my Nivek. I've turned him on to Squee and Lenore comics. He's already a fan of Deady. Warhammer might be something he'd be into.

  28. God, this is so true and it's not just the cell phones and check-out lines. I remember I had to write out a thank you letter for someone. The exact line was "Thank you for everything; I really appreciate it." Simple right? Well, I got to about the r when my mind went blank. There was either an E, A, I, or vowel of some kind coming next I just couldn't remember which one. I knew how to spell the word in high school, but thanks to the life-safer that is spellchecker, I'd stopped trying long ago. Needless to say since there wasn't a computer around, (and ye gods I was writing in pen,) I let this person know that I 'appricate' everything.
    yes... the robots are winning

  29. I use to be able to remember multiple phone numbers, then I had the lovely things called a cell phone, and an iPhone at that. Now that I have EVERYTHING backed up onto my iTunes, I don't have to remember anything EVER unless I decide to get rid of my iPhone.

    My friends, however, wish my laptop were less attached to me.

  30. This is one of my favorite posts. I was sitting next to my mom reading it and could not stop laughing,so I read it to her. She loved it and couldn't help but laugh at the fact that she relies on her phone to remember the numbers for her. We both had to stop and have a breather when I got to "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.

    "Right now?"

    "Yes, right now," I insisted.