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Before the iPhone, There Was Tetris

What was the precursor for the widespread tech addiction we see today, particularly in young people?

What was the precursor for the widespread tech addiction we see today, particularly in young people? Many say it was the iPhone. Peter Tonguette, however, thinks that the game Tetris started the screentime avalanche. Tonguette reviewed the new Apple TV+ film Tetris, which covers the story of the classic game’s development, acquisition, and subsequent popularity in the early nineties. He writes,

One might assume this changeover coincided with the rise of smartphones and social media, but a new movie shows that it happened as early as the summer vacation of 1989. During that fateful interregnum between school years, kids were introduced to something that prefigured the electronic devices of the 21st century: a battery-powered, 8-bit handheld videogame device whose two buttons and chunky directional pad belied its addictive properties.

The console in question was Nintendo’s Game Boy, which, upon its introduction to the young people of America that fateful summer, was sold with the game Tetris, which, before bewitching players on this continent, had caused a sensation among the computer-savvy during the dying days of the Soviet Union. The game involves players steering variously shaped blocks into full lines; it is the sort of thing that sounds monotonous but, when tried, proves as compulsive as manipulating a Rubik’s Cube.

-Peter Tonguette, Tetris and the Birth of an Obsession – Religion & Liberty Online (acton.org)

The film neglects to go into detail about the consequences of Tetris and the Game Boy, but Tonguette thinks we should be cognizant. The video game revolution encouraged kids to move away from the real, physical world and enter into a simulated one that they could control. One antidote to screen addiction is something like Trail Life USA, which Kent Marks talked about on a recent Mind Matters podcast. Trail Life invites boys into wilderness adventures under the guided mentorship of good father figures. The more young folks can taste of the adventure the real world has to offer, the less they’ll opt for the online counterfeits.

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Before the iPhone, There Was Tetris