If I could pin down the exact moment when I realized I might not be given the best-grandma-of-the-year award, it may have been during my last Monopoly game with Devin. We were playing the game in Spanish – we live in Mexico – and we were playing it on my sofa which is large, like the size of a bouncy castle. And Devin had no qualms about using it as such. The trampoline in the back yard saw less exercise. Anyway, Devin is my 9 year old grandson and he loves Monopoly. It presented a bit of a linguistic hinterland to others who didn’t know the language, but to Devin it was easy enough to manoeuvre his way around the board, read the cards and perform the tasks. And indeed this particular day, that stands out in remarkable clarity, Devin was winning; and as I sat there on my spacious couch, feeling like my legs and hand were leaking precious life force and fatigue changing parts of my brain, I was being asked to move directly to jail. A la carcel. Do not pass Go.
“Wait!’ I barked, shocked into action. It was a tone that could have stopped the neighbors in mid-bray. Or the traffic embroiled in its usual pinball frenzy. Meanwhile Devin passed Go with admirable nonchalance and rolled the dice again. “Go”, the perfect word, I mused, for a nation transfixed by speed. Then I came back to reality, and if the moment had been filmed the camera would have careened towards my face as I slapped palm to cheek in a wide-eyed, round-mouthed, spirit-sapping demonstration of shock. Sweat was being forced out with no previous history of perspiration. A solemn silence fell over me as I realized Devin, in his run of “Fortuna”, had won.
Devin got so good with his math that he could deliver change in less time than it took to shout “órale guey!”
Monopoly exerted a terrible hold on us as kids. It made us baby boomers feel grown up, making deals, getting arrested, paying taxes, forcing our opponents down onto their knees. We played it in tree houses, backyards, basements and attics, anywhere we could witness the financial annihilation of our beloved friends and family members. Now kids have some serious games, it seems. In today’s hyper-evolving Information Age some of us oldsters labor to adapt. Technology is not inherently good or bad … games replace boredom with joy and having fun. As long as they don’t dumb-down a whole generation of children! ( I have to be careful I don’t get too ’judgy’ … sometimes I sense being so out of step with current trends that I feel like I just stumbled out of a diorama at the museum of natural history. ) I think the boomer generation needs to evolve in its roles as parents and grandparents and adopt a less-is-more, fade-to-grey parenting style. Its role should become, if not obsolete, then at least lovingly marginalized. If human relationships are suffering as a result of smartphones and tablets as some current studies seem to suggest, how are they going to withstand the tide of immersive virtual reality experiences? Many of us are addicted. But then any experience can be addictive as long as it soothes distress. A viewer can easily watch 3 or 4 episodes at a time on Netflix because the cliff-hanger drives the thrill and enables the binge-watching. Maybe it’s not that we lack will power; maybe there are thousands on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulations we have. Product designers are smart! They know how to encourage us to use their products over and over again.
Human beings nowadays are trying to maximize lifespans, happiness and power. But what happens when we realize we aren’t really making free choices any more because technology has outsmarted our ability to calculate, understand and manipulate human experiences? What happens when they become just so many designable products? They say that when virtual reality matures, it will enable us to spend our time in any location doing whatever we like for as long as we like. Why then live in the real world with flawed people when you can live in a perfect world that feels just as real? When genetic engineering and AI reveal their true potential, democracy and free markets might become as obsolete as flint knives and tape cassettes. I mean, what will happen to us when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves? We need to do all that we can to become imaginative about our future, focus on the right things and bathe in the awareness of a much wider spectrum of options because somehow I think this is just a taste of things to come.