Goldie and Boldie were goldfish who lived in a fishbowl. They were happy there – for a while anyway – as their bowl was a nice little place for them to dwell. The blue, white and purple gravel at the bottom was kept bright and clean. They loved darting in and out of the sunken ship that lay on its side in the colored gravel, spending their days pretending they were hiding from sharks in the gaping hole on its side or discovering treasures that lay long hidden. The constant stream of bubbles rising from the boat to the surface above tickled their tummies as they swam through them. Chasing one another round the bowl, gobbling up the regular feedings of the rainbow-colored food that appeared on the surface each day, and floating quietly side-by-side when darkness fell on their world filled their fishbowl days with gladness.
As time went on, as time will do, Goldie began to notice something different about Boldie. Where once he had been eager to have swim races or play fish games all day long, Boldie spent more and more time staring out of the bowl. Though Goldie would occasionally look out of the bowl, such as watching for the owner to drop their food, she was far more content with her fishbowl world. But not Boldie.
Every person who walked through the room or child that ran by Boldie would follow with his goldfish eyes. Where before he would have spent the better part of his day swimming around with Goldie, now he had his little fish lips pressed close to the glass of the fishbowl looking at the other world that existed outside. If the TV was on in the room, he became motionless, hanging in the water gazing at the constantly changing colors on the screen. He began to miss meals, leaving his share of the speckled food floating up above. No matter how hard she tried, Goldie could not get him to play games or to come back into their ship hideout anymore.
Perhaps all of this could have been overlooked if it had not been for the cat.
Boldie’s greatest fascination was with the grey-striped cat that visited their bowl each day. Its larger than life face filled the side of the bowl like a close-up of a monster in a horror film. In their younger days whenever they saw the hungry green eyes staring in at them, Goldie and Boldie would flash away behind their ship and wait for it to leave. Goldie still reacted this way, but not Boldie. Indeed, Boldie’s response now was utterly strange to her. The listlessness he normally had left when the cat appeared. He would dart excitedly around flashing his tail, seeming to delight as the cat’s eyes grew wide with excitement. When the cat would slap a paw against the glass, Goldie, peeking out from behind the ship, would close her eyes in dread. But Boldie’s animation only grew, as this caused him to swim in quick circles and blow bubbles.
Yet the cat visits always ended as quickly as they began. When the cat turned and slinked away, Boldie grew still and returned to staring out the glass. No amount of urging or nudging by Goldie could get him to play with her.
One day, during a cat visit, as she spied from behind the ship Goldie saw the unimaginable. As Boldie raced around in front of the cat’s huge face, suddenly a giant paw flew into the water, scooped up Boldie, and sent him hurtling out of the bowl. As Goldie raced to the glass of the fishbowl to see what would happen, the next minutes were awful. Boldie flopping on the floor gasping. The cat swatting him around mercilessly. The owner running in yelling loudly. When at one point she even saw Boldie in the mouth of the cat, she raced into the hole of the ship.
A few moments later she heard a plop. Looking up, she saw Boldie had been dropped back into the bowl. As he floated downward, he struggled to swim. Goldie saw the reason why. Running along his left side, from his mouth, across his gill, and back toward his tail, was an ugly, red scratch.
Boldie lived, but was never able to swim straight again. The scratch, though healed, made a scar across his scales that pulled his head on the left side back slightly toward his tail. Yet that scar served a greater purpose. It also pulled his eyes away from the world outside the glass and back to the real one he shared with Goldie.
Right now, as you finish reading this little story, your nose is only inches away from a piece of glass called a computer screen. Think of it as the glass of a fishbowl for a moment. How much has your heart been taken away from the loved ones in your own world because of undue devotion to a world in cyberspace you cannot truly experience? Have you even become excited by devotion to “a monster?” A secret, illicit relationship? Viewing pornography? Playing endless video games? The problem with virtual reality is it actually seems so virtually unreal. So other worldly that it will not harm us. Beware becoming a fish in a bowl.