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Innovation

Tech pushing limits of entertainment

As I child, I was left pretty much on my own most of the day because both my parents worked.So I would entertain myself with pretend-play mostly as a teacher giving lessons, yelling at phantom students and throwing the duster--yes, I had a blackboard and all--at "students" who refused to pay attention during class.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor on

As I child, I was left pretty much on my own most of the day because both my parents worked.

So I would entertain myself with pretend-play mostly as a teacher giving lessons, yelling at phantom students and throwing the duster--yes, I had a blackboard and all--at "students" who refused to pay attention during class.

No doubt my baby-sitter must have thought I had a screw loose somewhere. Hmm, no wonder she used to look at me funny.

These days, kids no longer need to have imaginary students to keep themselves occupied--thanks to the Internet, video games and more recently, social networks.

While technology and the Web have afforded great things to pockets of the global population that would otherwise not have access to things like online learning, it has also created new generations of youth that increasingly crave new forms of entertainment.

This insatiable appetite for kicks and thrills has become a concern in some countries.

Over 4 million teenagers in China, for instance, spend more than six hours a day on the Internet--enough hours to be labeled an online addict in the country. These youngsters are hooked mainly on playing online games, which may not bode well for a country that's expected to see this industry segment grow to become a US$6 billion market by 2012.

To top it off, the Internet population in China reached 384 million last year, approximately 70 million of whom are under the age of 30.

It has become such a significant problem that the Chinese government has plans to formally recognize Web addiction as a clinical disease and local hospitals have opened dedicated units to treat the addiction.

South Korea is also trying to deal with the same problem. Its government estimates that 2 million South Koreans are addicted to the Internet. This week, it ordered operators of the three most popular local online games to block overnight access by users under 18.

According to a CNN report, the curfew was implemented after a baby starved to death because its young parents were so hooked on an online game that they neglected to care for their infant.

It's a worrying trend and more worrying when each new generation craves and seeks out more and more before they're able to quench their thirst for entertainment.

A while back, I watched a U.K. documentary that discussed the intricacies of lucid dreams. In a lucid dream, the sleeper is aware that she is dreaming and can actively participate in the experience. In some instances, sleepers attain a sufficient level of self-awareness that they are able to manipulate the dream and heighten their experience.

In the documentary, one guy talked about how he managed to achieve enough control to tweak his dream so that he was sitting by the beach with a beautiful girl for company.

A company has even come up with the technology to help users produce lucid dreams on a regular basis. When worn during sleep, the NovaDreamer mask detects eye movements and emits red flashing lights intermittently when the user is in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when dreaming occurs. The flashing lights are said to help trigger lucid dreams so the sleeper will be prompted to take control of the experience.

The NovaDreamer mask includes a "reality button" that users can press to check if they're really awake and still dreaming. Hmmm.

I enjoy dreaming, except for those recurring nightmares where my teeth are crumbling inside my mouth (yikes!). Dreams can provide experience things that you normally wouldn't be able to enjoy in the real world. In fact, I believe Barry Manilow wrote his hit song Copacabana after waking up in the middle of the night from a dream and Paul McCartney reportedly revealed that Yesterday came to him in a dream.

But, I was appalled when the U.K. documentary proposed a future where our dreams could soon become "another example of 21st century instant entertainment, where we could tap into the visual cortex and see other people's dreams".

I think it will be pretty dismal if we are reduced to a state where we have to turn to our dreams as a form of 21st century instant entertainment. As it is, we're inundated with reality shows on TV where we take humor in watching dysfunctional families swear incessantly at their parents and siblings and fall apart in public.

With lucid dreams, we may end up creating a population where everyone yearns to crawl back to their bed, dream up a fantasy world and escape the realities of the real one.

The U.K. documentary interviewed psychotherapist Michael Edward who warned that lucid dreams could introduce problems and distort messages the brain conceals in dreams. Referring to someone who used lucid dreams to keep his father alive after his death, Edward said this blocked the son's grieving process which is an essential part of being human.

I think we're treading on thin ice when we allow technology to mask the realities of life and be used as an easy way out of difficult circumstances.

It's great when lucid dreams can be applied to cure chronic nightmares but perhaps the better and more permanent solution would be to figure out why the nightmares occur in the first place.

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