A towheaded little kid came over to me in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. “You have an iPad!” he said, peering down at the screen. “Do you have any games?”
“Just Scrabble,” I said.
“You should have more games,” he said. “I could find one for you. Us kids know all about technology.”
He was so cute that I indulged him by going to the iTunes store to look for games. I had no intention of buying any, but then I noticed one game was free: Angry Birds.
“That’s pretty good,” the kid said.
So I downloaded Angry Birds right there in the waiting room. Before he could show me how to play, though, his mother noticed he was causing trouble and called him back to her.
Apparently Angry Birds is wildly popular, but I’d never heard of it before. Later I gave it a shot – literally, since the game consists of shooting birds at fortified targets with a slingshot. The goal is to break through the fortifications of wood and stone to destroy the green pigs within. If the player manages to eliminate all the pigs, the soundtrack erupts in raucous crows of triumph. If not, the remaining pigs gloat by snorting and grinning.
Angry Bird is an elegant game. Its design is perfect for the touch screen of the iPad, and winning requires logic as well as a steady hand and true aim. The fortifications must be hit in the right spot to bring them crashing down on the pigs.
Angry Birds is also dangerously addicting, as I discovered over the next few weeks. I had essays to read – dozens of essays – yet I wasted hours playing Angry Birds. “One game,” I told myself, knowing better. I could not quit after losing, and I could not quit if my winning score fell short of my best score. Since then I have moved on to Angry Bird Rio, in which the propelled birds bust through cages to free other birds captured by evil smugglers. I like Rio even better. Avian Liberation!
The game got me thinking about the ways I waste time and whether any of them can be justified. I play Scrabble on the iPad for hours, but at least it hones my mental skills. What do I gain from Angry Birds? Relaxation. A way to engage my conscious mind as my unconscious works out some problem that has been vexing me.
I waste time by shopping online. There’s no justification for that, except the pleasure it gives. I waste time rereading books that I’ve already read and watching movies and TV shows that I’ve already seen more than once. Maybe I gain a deeper understanding of the works by going back to them, but my motive isn’t so high-minded. I’m really just having fun. Nothing wrong with that. Except everyone’s time on earth is limited. I have only so many days left to live. Who knows, maybe only today. Do I really want to spend my last precious hours gazing at pictures of shoes or shooting virtual birds at virtual targets?
Well, no. But I don’t want to spend them listening to a clock tick either. Everything I enjoy doing – from writing fiction to riding my horse to playing Angry Birds – has one thing in common. It makes me forget time. For a little while, anyway, those lost hours feel like forever.