Are you now or have you ever been addicted to computer solitaire? I certainly have been, especially when in the throes of clinical depression. I wrote this poem about my favorite game, Spider, and B.F. Skinner’s “Human Behavior” course at Harvard several years ago, before my books were published, when I was temporarily off Zoloft. I still have occasional relapses, but they’re few and far between. Blogging seems to be an excellent antidote to this solitary addiction.
Skinner’s Last Laugh
I’m trapped again before this green computer screen.
The silken strands of Spider smother me,
engulf me in a mindless mush cocoon.
One win, I told myself – no more.
I’ll log on while my husband’s out – he’ll never know.
Now, half a dozen losses later, I’m still here,
forefinger on the mouse, stomach clenched.
The acid of self-loathing eats away my core,
erodes the creativity I used to prize.
My mind trips back in time.
I see a basement laboratory, low-ceilinged,
beneath the Harvard Yard well over forty years ago
when I, a sophomore Cliffie, braces barely off my teeth,
hunkered down at B.F. Skinner’s teaching machine.
A quaint, enormous turntable, a huge bronzed disc,
that called to mind the earliest Victrola.
A skinny rectangle of a window that doled out praise in tiny type
when I punched in the one correct answer. Guess wrong,
you had to try again ad infinitum. Conform, or fail the course.
Nat Sci 114, the catalog called it. Human Behavior.
Run the maze correctly, get an A. Positive reinforcement,
the Skinner gospel. We, the young lab rats,
laughed furtively behind the mad professor’s back.
So primitive, we thought, this pathetic stab at thought control.
Machines will never tame the human spirit.
Free thought rules.
I see him grinning down today, that mad professor.
His wiry grey hair, his horn-rimmed glasses, his skeletal smile.
The literate world’s a virtual Skinner box.
I’m one of countless millions clicking on that mouse,
running the maze that turns my mind to mush.
The machine’s more elegant, the graphics splendid.
The cards click crisply. When the final suit cascades into place,
electric trumpets blare, and fireworks explode.
“You’ve won!” the screen proclaims in garish orange
that segues to magenta.
Somewhere Professor Skinner laughs in glee.
His thought-control experiment’s gone global, run amuck,
beyond his wildest dreams. And we, who used to dream,
crawl mindless through the maze.
© Julie Lomoe
I did some online research awhile back, and learned that addiction to computer games has become a recognized clinical phenomenon. Fortunately I never got into interactive online gaming – like heroin, it’s something I’d never dare try, for fear of becoming fatally addicted. Social networking has some of the same alluring properties. Logging onto Facebook for the first time in a few days, I felt a definite rush. I like to think I’ve got it under control, but maybe I’m just in denial.
What about you? Have you ever been dangerously addicted to computer games? When did you hit bottom, and how did you recover?