A book club for developers.
BookBytes is a fortnightly (or biweekly) book club for developers. Each episode the hosts discuss part of a book they've been reading. And they also chat with authors about their books. The books are about development, design, ethics, history, and soft skills. Sometimes there are tangents (also known as footnotes).
(Intro music: Electro swing)
Hello and welcome to BookBytes, a book club podcast for developers. This episode is sponsored by Pluralsight, the technology skills platform.
This time we’re doing something a little different and talking about a fiction book. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and since it’s a fiction book/movie I want to talk about who has read it and watched it and if they liked it and then we’ll warn you when the spoilers are about to begin.
So I’m Adam Garrett-Harris.
I’m Jen Luker.
I’m Safia Abdalla.
I’m Jason Staten.
Okay! So before we get into spoilers who has read it, who has watched it, and did you like it?
I have read it and I’ve watched it and I liked them both but for different reasons.
I have only watched it, mixed opinions.
I have only read it. I’ve done both the audiobook and the text version of it and I did enjoy it.
Okay. I read it back in 2014 and then I watched the movie when it came out and then I recently just read it, just finished reading it 10 minutes ago. And I really enjoyed the book. I really enjoyed the movie as well. I think there was a good amount of gap between when I read it and when I watched the movies that I wasn’t too worried about the differences and I was able to enjoy both. And then… Yeah. I really liked it when I reread again as well. I think it held up well.
So, be warned. Spoilers begin now!
Everyone dies! It’s true! Well the world… the world is actually a really terrible place when this book starts in the year 2045, I think? Like, the entire world has run out of fuel and stuff.
It’s not really that far off.
Yeah, that’s not far off at all. And I just realized the other day that BladeRunner takes place in 2019.
Kinda awesome, huh?
Which is pretty…
Yeah. But yeah, definitely a dark look at the future but what I think I liked most about the book, like, most and, I don’t know, it was kind of depressing, was that a lot of it is surprisingly, like, close? Like, doesn’t seem like it’s that far-fetched and it’s kind of scary.
But also looking at some of the things, even the technology of The Oasis for example, that’s one thing that I really liked about the book is the fact that The Oasis is something that we’re, in some ways, on the verge of. I think some ways we’re very far off from it, but in particular, like, the ability of going into a virtual world and having VR be, like, a commonplace for people is right there.
I mean, you look at stuff like the Oculus Go where you have a headset that you can pick up and have it be, like, right around the $300 mark. Like, that’s not quite the same cost as what was charged for Oasis’ rig in the book, but I mean, given $300 in a time where people are now spending upwards of $1000 for a cell phone? Like, it is getting closer and closer to that affordable mark where people really can get into it at many more economic levels than just the uber wealthy.
Not to mention the fact that we also have things like, Online K-12 now so it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to add, in 26 years, the ability to attend via VR, that really does make a lot more sense.
Yeah! I thought that was really interesting that he was finishing out high school when the book first began and of course, like, the living in this stack of trailers, heaps of cars everywhere, because there’s no gas so everyone just abandoned them…
Well yeah, I thought that was interesting that one of the differences between the book and the movie was that in the book he’s pretty poor, he doesn’t have any money inside of The Oasis even, to go to any other planets other than the one planet he’s on where he’s going to school, and so he actually ends up finding the first key on that planet. And I thought that was really interesting in the book. I think it would have worked really terribly in the movie. You don’t want to see someone going to school, you want to see something exciting at the beginning of a movie.
The other thing that I found interesting, going back to that technology just a little bit, was the fact that in the book itself, the technology that he utilizes evolves over time. As he makes more money he’s able to buy better gear because the money that he makes within the game actually maps to the money he makes outside, as well. So he’s actually able to use those credits to buy better gear, and the better gear he gets the more detailed the book gets regarding how that gear functions, and it wasn’t, again, all that far off from something that’s actually doable, like the bodysuits and how the body suits interact with the body in order to provide sensation, for instance.
Hmm. Yeah, ‘cause in the movie he starts off with the bidirectional… what’s it called? It’s like the thing that you run on that you can run in every direction.
He starts off with that which I think is kind of funny because I don’t think you, I wouldn’t be able to stand up inside of a van and run, but he is inside of a van running around. But yeah, it’s really interesting that The Oasis is very accessible, like you said, Jason, with the price point, but you can upgrade it as much as you want to and you can get more and more out of it. And then even the more poor people will troll the people with the really fancy gear by putting offensive smells and then the other people will have to smell that if they have their smell-o-tronic turned on.
Which I thought was pretty funny.
The cool thing, I think, about finding the key, the very first key, and the fact that it was on the very first planet essentially that you start on is the fact that he was given his gear, initially, by the school. And as far as the gear goes he’s given his headset, a pair of gloves, and he essentially, like, rigs himself up on strings in his van, right?
So that’s, like, it.
Yeah, I missed that part.
It’s just enough to be able to, like, type out answers because you basically zoom in and you are in your seat, already. You can get up and go move around, but you don’t have to. So they gave them the bare amount of gear to start out, but the thing is, though, is anyone who goes to school in The Oasis is given their free set of gear. Which meant that anyone from any price point, you know, any income level could have found that first key. And with the first key came the first influx of cash. With the first influx of cash came the ability to travel, buy better gear, actually start looking, have the ability to make more money, something that you couldn’t really do on that first school-based planet.
Yeah, I thought that really smart that it goes into, kind of, what Halliday, which we didn’t talk about this yet. If you haven’t read the book the whole premise is that one of the creators of The Oasis dies and he doesn’t have any heirs and he establishes this contest that has a huge cash prize and then you also basically get control of The Oasis, or at least a large portion of it. And so it goes into his intentions of what he wanted to happen during this contest, like what the spirit of the contest was, who he wanted to win, so putting on a school shows that maybe he wanted a student to win or anybody from any means to find it.
Was the school thing something that showed up in the book but not the movie?
Was it not in the movie?
Yeah, that’s just in the book.
So in the movie, he… Do you want to explain what happens in the movie, Safia?
Sure. So I’ve only seen the movie, I saw it when it came out so now I’m having to recall what it was. So the movie is basically similar premise. You have this young boy who spends most of his time in The Oasis. There’s no really reference to school or his education. It seems like he spends just most of his time in The Oasis and he gets this opportunity to participate in the challenge to find the easter egg and win a lot of prize money and notoriety and all of that stuff, and then he just kind of goes through several challenges and as the plot progresses there’s this moment where he discovers that, like, the challenge is kind of BS, the whole premise of The Oasis… he discovers, kind of, like, the dark underlying current behind it, and then he like, kind of, turns against it, I guess? And like, helps to make the real world a better place. Am I remembering that correctly? For those who have also seen the movie?
There’s a fair amount missing in the middle but you’re kind of there.
Yeah, there’s lots of adventures and challenges and stuff like that but I think, like, the general premise is that he gets involved in the challenge as he’s participating in it. Was the female character of Art3mis also in the book?
She’s the one that really wanted to make the world a better place-
In the book. And as he got to know her then by the end that’s what he wanted to do, as well.
Yeah, I kind of find that trope interesting. Like, the moral female character in the plot who guides the protagonist to the right way. I think that’s, like, a pretty common plot device so it’s interesting to see that they, that was in the book but they also retained it in the movie as well.
So yeah, I guess I was curious, there was no reference to the school in the movie so I wonder why that choice was made to remove it.
Yeah, that was a huge point.
So you’re wondering what?
Why they made that choice to not include it in the movie.
Yeah, I think it would have been boring to start off with that. So the movie starts off where anyone can jump into the gate, right? And once you jump into the gate it’s a car race.
And so people have been doing this for a really long time, in the book it’s been 4 or 5 years?
Since Halliday died and no one’s found the first key yet. There’s always something that he does differently that no one else thought to do but in the movie they’re just doing this really cool car race and he decides to run his car backwards instead of forwards.
Yeah, that is very different from the book.
But when I do it in real life it’s not legal.
I do think that the school part of the book does definitely help develop the character of Parzival throughout the story, specifically because it talks about his life from even being a young child where it says he was basically raised through The Oasis. That he started off using educational programs even from a child so his mother wouldn’t have to pay attention to him and rather she could use it as a form of babysitting.
And so even that educational software was something that he grew his life out of and so one of the things that he balances back and forth and I mean, I guess it isn’t even balanced for the vast majority of the book, is just how much his life inside of The Oasis is his reality.
Yeah. That’s kind of a scary thing and it’s something I try to balance with my son, how much screen time, because it’s very easy to just let a screen babysit.
Yeah, I’m kind of conflicted on that. I feel like devs do sometimes have that curmudgeonly “kids shouldn’t be on screens all the time” but I wonder to what extent this is, if maybe I’m just looking too much at the bad and not necessarily the good and if there are things where, like, the ways people interact with each other and socialize with each other change. I have mixed feelings about the notion of, like, screens as this, like, totally negative thing.
Or, like, even how much screen time is appropriate, but I’m also not a parent so I don’t have any reasonable opinions or any stake in this game. (laughs)
Right, yeah. I don’t think screens are inherently evil. They can be used for good and they can be used for bad and then there’s a point where it’s just, it’s good but it’s too much.
Because there’s other good things like exercise, getting outside.
How do you define the “too much” as a parent? For you, personally?
You can also say you don’t know, but I’m just curious.
Yeah, I don’t know, but we have a limited amount of time after school, between school and bedtime and so there’s really not a lot of time for the screen and you know, there’s recommendations on how much exercise, outdoor play kids should have. And I think there’s different types of screen activities. Some you are being a little bit more creative and I think that’s better than passively watching.
I would say for me as a parent that my key emphasis when it comes to screen time is less about a specific amount of time and more about making that experience one that is interactive with my child. So when we go through something and say whether we watch a show or we play a video game together, we have a discussion about what is going on and why something might have happened. Or if something is far-fetched in the show and isn’t a realistic thing, talking about why that isn’t. And so it’s still, it becomes an interaction and not just a form of babysitting.
Got it, okay. That’s an interesting perspective. Do you have anything to add on that front, Jen? This has just turned into “Safia interviews parents about how they raise their children.” (laughs)
It depends. I’ve kind of gone back and forth on this over the age of my children and the availability of technology and how much technology plays in society and social interactions. It does come down to a point where, you know, lacking a certain level of technology goes beyond… I guess financial well to dos and goes into cutting them off and isolating them from the ability to socialize with their peers as well as their teachers.
Got it. So you kind of sense that there’s a point at which you’re limiting the social interactions that they have through the technology by, like, restraining it from them.
Like, I remember when there was a point in school where we had to, like, give a report on a TV program that was airing except for the fact that it was on cable and I didn’t have cable growing up. So-
Wow. I can’t believe they assigned that.
Yeah, that’s a weird assignment.
They do it all the time. Like, I mean, up until not that long ago they would assign you go online and you have to search up things which meant a trip to the library to try to access the internet. So, I mean-
It depends, like, it does come down to a point where if you don’t have the technology you’re no longer capable of interacting within those school programs without some sort of external help.
Do you feel that as your children have grown older you now see a deeper requirement for technology in like, their classwork and then their interactions and stuff like that?
It’s not such, it’s not a matter of them growing older it’s more of the adoption of the technology within a community. So, for instance, even my almost to be kindergarten student has computer time at school. So-
Really? Aren’t they like, 5 years old?
Okay, that’s interesting. Huh.
That being said-
Like, by the time my kids were in third and fourth grade they had homework that they had to fulfill on the computer, online, after hours, for, like, math homework or reading homework they had to go online and play a certain number of minutes per day on a game. And that was their homework. So-
Not having that technology available, you know, it was inhibiting their ability to complete their homework. It was reducing their grades.
And do you feel like you're seeing more and more of those kinds of assignments and requirements as, like, time has passed on?
Yes, I’ve definitely had that chance to see the difference between my children that are now in highschool and college and my one that’s just about to start school and how the interactions with technology are different between the two groups of kids based on, you know, their age group at that time.
I see. I think these are interesting questions to ask because I definitely feel like one of the, like, big points of analysis that people make when it comes to movies like Ready Player One and other kind of sci-fi future focused films is people’s relationships with technology, I’m always curious to learn how is it that people who are much younger who’ve like, you know, never known a world without an iphone or never known a world without Alexa and Siri are, like, learning to engage with it and what does that look like when you think about it, like, 50 years into the future, or 100 years into the future.
I mean, if you look at it the other direction, too, the internet has always existed as long as you’ve been alive and I remember when the internet was, like, invented. Within reason, you know? I was born just after networks between colleges became a thing. So given that, I remember when the first modems were created. I remember when, you know, they got up to 14.4, I remember TelNet. I remember when it wasn’t even a possibility. So to be able to go from that to now being able to see that, and that’s only, I can’t say a whole lifetime, that’s just, like, a part of a lifetime, you know? Of being able to see that evolution and that change go from “the internet didn’t exist for common people” to “the internet is a requirement for children to get a good grade.”
In free public school.
And I’m also curious to know if the very fact that people from an earlier age interface with technology more frequently means that it’s much easier for them to adopt it later on in the future. Like, if you grew up with a desktop computer in your home in the ‘90s are you more likely that somebody else to adopt, like, a connected home or have an Alexa in your house as opposed to someone who might not have grown up with that technology. Like, does the very fact that you interact with it more at a younger age mean that you are more likely to use it more than others as you grow older and as new kinds of technology comes about. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Like, do you, kind of, just become more of an adopter of it as opposed to others?
And I think so just because of the fact that it’s available and you’ve learned to use it. You don’t necessarily know how to do it before, like, microwaves. You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that microwaves didn’t exist. All cooking had to happen in an oven or a stove. All reheating of food had to happen in an oven or on a stove which meant that, you know, cooking took a lot more time and, you know, then came microwaves and things got a lot easier and I’m saying everyone owns a microwave but… I mean, they are so ridiculously common in like, every day households at this point that it’s hard to rent an apartment without one.
So much cheaper and smaller.
Right? So it’s just like, it’s something that we have now.
And that’s definitely a key point in it is that it's not even just an individual change and having individual access to technology, but also as a collective, like, socially we adopt technologies as well so you have to become part of those things or are inclined to be part of those things just because that’s what the group you’re in is involved with.
You look at things like the big craze right now over Fortnite. Like, that is huge and part of it is because the game itself is free and available all over the place so people with an iphone can play on it, or people with a desktop PC can play, like, everybody’s able to get in on it and because there’s such a big, social force behind it, like, there are so many people that are involved in it, whereas there was definitely a point in time not too long ago, that if you were playing the amount of hours that people play in Fortnite, like, you would kind of get looked down on of you’re spending way too much time on the computer playing games and now it’s more of even, like, a social hangout in some regards.
Yeah, I mean, that’s the same with Minecraft and Roblox.
And to prove Safia’s point of the other side of things that, you know, those that grew up with it are more likely to adopt than those that didn’t, I’ve never even looked up Fortnite, I’ve only ever heard it from other people.
Same. So, but you have a good point there, Jason. Like, it gets to a point where if you’re a laggard as far as adapting technology it eventually becomes not even a choice anymore. You could choose not to be in The Oasis but you’re choosing to opt out of society at that point unless you could find another community.
That is a great point.
I heard a woman today at the arts and crafts store say that she had no access to a computer and therefore she couldn’t sign up for the coupons because it required both a phone number and an email address. So she couldn’t even get the coupons because she didn’t have an email address because she’d never had access to a computer. So it was kind of interesting to see that and just kind of seeing her disappointment and her frustration that, you know, she’s now officially opting out of things that would help her save money by not having things-
That cost money.
Yeah, and it’s the same with cell phones. This is a, kind of, a minor example, but it’s a huge inconvenience not to have a cell phone now. To the point where it’s-
It’s a lot more inconvenient than it used to be, because society has changed around the fact that everyone has cell phones. So people don’t make plans in advance, you text when you get there and different things like that.
On one flip of it, or one other perspective of it, I think about me, being a child of the internet, it was something that we didn’t always have it, but very shortly after we got our first computer the internet was something that I was able to get access to and one of the things that that allowed me to do was interact with people that I certainly would have not been able to interact with locally.
I think I may have talked about it before on the show but maybe if I haven’t, one of the things that I got involved with when I was probably 13, it was kind of my first experience into programming, like real programming, not just like, it was Macromedia Flash at the time. I think that was early beginnings, but there was a group of people that called themselves Yhackers or Y!Hackers for people who hacked things on Yahoo, particularly yahoo messenger. They would go and create applications and automate things within yahoo messenger to send, like, boot codes into chat rooms and you could go and, like, wipe out a whole chat room full of people by sending this particular code in there.
And that was actually a community that I managed to get involved with as a kid and I didn’t quite realize what some of the people were doing where they were, like, actively hacking into accounts and stuff and doing horribly malicious things, but there was, like, a culture of creating, like, your own app and then you would distribute it to other people to show off, like, “Hey, I made this cool trivia bot!” Or, “Hey, I made this thing that could go and do rainbow text!” That was not something that was available in the actual app itself.
And I think about it as I read through Ready Player One, just thinking about communities, like, kind of small, niche communities that I was able to be involved in similar to that during some of my childhood because of the connectivity of the internet. And it actually, kind of, gave me a little bit of a longing for it because I have, I guess more recently been more of a hermit and stuck to myself with things, and then also, sometimes I feel like looking at the internet now, it can be a place where you always have to put on your best or, like you’re selling yourself or marketing yourself rather than being a tight knit community. And that’s not true for the whole thing, but that’s definitely the way that my usage or experience has kind of gone where you’re selling yourself rather than being a part of a club or a really small niche.
Not only are you selling yourself but you’re selling a lifestyle, too. So if you don’t provide the illusion that you have and maintain that lifestyle then you don’t get to fit into the niches that you think you’re supposed to either and you get excluded from those niches. So it becomes very much, not just a sales pitch as it is the ability to be part of those groups.
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So, going back to the book I think another one of the reasons why they change it in the movie to a race is you’re able to see early on in the movie a bunch of the cars in the race are the exact same car with a different serial number on it and apparently they all start with 6 and so they are called “sixers” and they’re from this apparently evil corporation that is trying to take over The Oasis by winning the egg, and they are also the largest internet provider and they do a whole bunch of other stuff, it doesn’t say exactly what. I know one of the things they do is they have cabs, so I guess kind of like an Uber, like an auto-cab. And so I was wondering what y’all’s thoughts were on... the company’s called IOI and their motives and analogies to today, like, I think that’s actually inevitable if a contest like this would happen.
Yeah. It’s the Amazon/Comcast/Uber monopoly that’s going to emerge in 20 years. (laughs)
I was going to say one of the terrifying things about it is that since they own the cabs, if you get into the cab and it identifies you as a criminal, it probably just takes you straight to the police.
Is this in the book or the movie?
This is in the book. He gets into a cab, he changes his identity back to his original identity so that he doesn’t get… So, in the book Wade is the one that goes into IOI, he goes in as an indentured servant and then he escapes.
I have to explain a little bit of the difference between the book and the movie right now that’s a little bit deeper than that. So, before this happens, one of the brothers is actually murdered.
In the book?
In the book. One of the brothers is murdered.