When they haven’t annoyed me with some inane, narrow-visioned opinion, I have been known to enjoy reading Slate. Today they brought together Ender’s Game and The Far Side, which is more concerning than enjoyable—but nevertheless intriguing. The article relates:
The guy in the knit shirt leans back in his leather chair, his hand wrapped around the joystick. On the console display, two plane-shaped icons show the available ammo. As the target vehicle crosses his screen, he squeezes the red button. The car vanishes in a fireball.
But this is no game. This is the real thing. It’s called the Universal Control System. It directs aerial military drones. Raytheon, a high-tech defense contractor, exhibited the system last week at an air show in Britain. It looks and feels like a video game. But it kills real people.
If you’ve seen combat in the flesh, you know what the fireball on the screen means to the people in the car. But to a teenager raised on Doom and Halo, it looks like just another score. He can’t feel or smell the explosion. He isn’t even there. The eeriest thing in the demo video is the total silence that accompanies the car’s destruction. The only sound that follows is the pilot’s triumphant verdict: “Excellent job.” It’s like something you’d read on the screen after getting a high score at an arcade.
If you can’t see the connection with Ender’s Game, then either you haven’t read it (so I don’t want to ruin it for you), or you have read it and you just don’t get it (then you should read it again or get a friend to condescendingly explain it to you).
The Far Side connection was with a comic I once saw that featured a geeky teenage boy (I guess that would be a normal Far Side kid) that was on the ground playing Super Mario World. During his play, his parents gleefully daydreamed about his lustrous future as a video gamer. I was trying to find an example of the comic strip, when I ran across the following Gary Larson request:
So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet. These cartoons are my “children,” of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone’s web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, “Uh, Dad, you’re not going to like this much, but guess where I am.
So, instead I will give you a lovely picture of a thagomizer.
To very different worlds colliding in a sobering look into the future of warfare. While it may be quite disturbing to think of wars being fought in a dehumanized, video game environment, it lends to the increasingly prevalent feeling that more and more “the future” is happening right now.
The second thought, not related to the first except that I also read about it this morning, is about Sly Dial. Here is the concept in summary. You want to call someone, but you only want to leave a voicemail. So you call this number in Pennsylvania, 267-SLY DIAL, they have you either pay or listen to an ad, and then you are in the voicemail of the person you called. As the recorded voice explains on the service, “pretty sly, huh.”
What was cool to me was the ad; it wasn’t just some random ad that added no value to the advertiser—it had targeted appeal and a real direct response component, which says to me that there is some staying power to this service. Second, I like the attitude/personality that the brand emotes. In addition to the “pretty sly” comment, when I tried to dial my number as my test run. She (the sassy recorded voice) quickly replied, “don’t you have any friends” and then chided me for dialing my own number. I laughed for a second, which soon ended when I realized that I really don’t have any friends.
Update: Our self-proclaimed Chief Awesome Officer just texted me with a poorly structured statement of dislike for Sly Dial in comparison to Pinger. You probably are wise enough to realize that Pinger and Sly Dial aren’t very similar, but then again, you missed the Ender’s Game comparison. Irrespective of that thought, check Pinger out as well; it looks pretty neat.