Oct 16

Thoughts from the Boston Book Festival

Brief thoughts on the Boston Book Festival. It was a nice event, and a great service (it’s free), though in turn it was very crowded. In my opinion, only two of the four sessions that I attended would have been worth paying for: Alone Together, a session that explored the threat to “togetherness” from ubiquitous text/online technology; and Civil War, a neat collection of four Civil War historians.

Worth noting that Jennifer Egan (www.jenniferegan.com) is an amazing author and speaker, but her session was clouded by a lack of cohesiveness (probably the moderator’s fault).

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust is an enormously impressive historian and presenter. Her talk about death during the Civil War was very moving.

I have a newly found appreciation for Ulysses S. Grant. I’ve always considered him an important historical figure. I now know that’s a vast understatement.

In my opinion, the morning presentation “Alone Together” was the best. It was hosted by writer Shelly Turkle (Alone Together, Amazon), counselor Sue Hallowell (Married to Distraction, Amazon), and writer Ethan Gilsdorf. Specifically, Mr. Gilsdorf led the way.

His book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks (Amazon), explores the tenuous line between the imaginary and the real world. As any online gamer will tell you, that line often blurs — and that’s when bad stuff happens. Without a clear distinction, gamers run the risk of spending too much time online.

That said, I firmly believe that online games are a good thing, if taken in moderation. In my previous life as a gamer, I met a lot of great people who I now consider real life friends. I saw how the online social component enabled people with serious physical ailments or disabilities, and allowed them to be valued members of a society when, elsewhere, they would immediately be ignored. I saw how complete strangers would offer to help others, with no reward other than personal satisfaction. I saw couples get together and, six years later, remain happily together.

I also saw the bad: 18-year-old college kids who were on the verge of dropping out because they played 16 hours a day. The people who used anonymity to become online bullies. People who, when they spoke on voice communication programs, clearly had no ability to engage in typical social conversation.

The “average” gamer is somewhere in the middle. Yet, the word gamer still has a certain stigma to it, and often is used to refer to a negative extreme. That’s a stereotype that Mr. Gilsdorf tries to debunk.

Check out Mr. Gilsdorf’s website here: http://www.ethangilsdorf.com/

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