I was introduced to the OASIS at an early age, because my mother used it as a virtual
babysitter. As soon as I was old enough to wear a visor and a pair of haptic gloves,
my mom helped me create my first OASIS avatar. Then she stuck me in a corner and
went back to work, leaving me to explore an entirely new world, very different from
the one I’d known up until then.
From that moment on, I was more or less raised1 by the OASIS’s interactive educational
programs, which any kid could access for free. I spent a big chunk2 of my
childhood hanging out in a virtual-reality simulation of Sesame Street, singing songs
with friendly Muppets and playing interactive games that taught me how to walk,
talk, add, subtract, read, write, and share. Once I’d mastered those skills, it didn’t take
me long to discover that the OASIS was also the world’s biggest public library, where
even a penniless kid like me had access to every book ever written, every song ever
recorded, and every movie, television show, videogame, and piece of artwork ever
created. The collected knowledge, art, and amusements of all human civilization were
there, waiting for me. But gaining access to all of that information turned out to be
something of a mixed blessing3. Because that was when I found out the truth.
[...] I started to figure out the ugly truth as soon as I began to explore the free OASIS
libraries. The facts were right there waiting for me, hidden in old books written by
people who weren’t afraid to be honest. Artists and scientists and philosophers and
poets, many of them long dead. As I read the words they’d left behind, I finally began
to get a grip on the situation. My situation. Our situation. What most people referred
to as “the human condition.”
It was not good news.
I wish someone had just told me the truth right up front, as soon as I was old
enough to understand it. I wish someone had just said:
[...] “You’re probably wondering what happened before you got here. An awful lot
of stuff, actually. Once we evolved into humans, things got pretty interesting. We
figured out how to grow food and domesticate animals so we didn’t have to spend
all of our time hunting. Our tribes got much bigger, and we spread across the entire
planet like an unstoppable virus. Then, after fighting a bunch of wars with each
other over land, resources, and our made-up gods, we eventually got all of our tribes
organized into a ‘global civilization.’ But, honestly, it wasn’t all that organized, or
civilized, and we continued to fight a lot of wars with each other. But we also figured
out how to do science, which helped us develop technology. For a bunch of hairless
apes4, we’ve actually managed to invent some pretty incredible things. Computers.
Medicine. Lasers. Microwave ovens. Artificial hearts. Atomic bombs. We even sent
a few guys to the moon and brought them back. We also created a global communications
network that lets us all talk to each other, all around the world, all the time.
Pretty impressive, right?
“But that’s where the bad news comes in. Our global civilization came at a huge cost.
We needed a whole bunch of energy to build it, and we got that energy by burning
fossil fuels, which came from dead plants and animals buried deep in the ground. We used up most of this fuel before you got here, and now it’s pretty much all gone. This
means that we no longer have enough energy to keep our civilization running like it
was before. So we’ve had to cut back. Big-time. We call this the Global Energy Crisis,
and it’s been going on for a while now.
[...] “Human civilization is in ‘decline.’ Some people even say it’s ‘collapsing5.’”
Excerpt(s) from READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline, copyright © 2011 by Dark All Day, Inc.. Used by permission of Crown Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
1. taken care of until fully grown
2. a large part
3. a favor or gift
4. a large primate
5. fall down