What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, he orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in the Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and the rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
Stumbled upon this piece, and discovered the world of Neil Postman’s writings. Man, was the man wise!
Talking to a friend the other day, I told that I used to be a futurist, but that I wasn’t sure anymore. Sure, technology was freeing up time and space like never before, so that, as a race, we are made able to explore the world and all that it has to offer more, BUT, it is 1) running all that the world has to offer into ruins, and 2) distracting us rather than freeing up our minds. It’s not like I took a sudden spiritual turn, but the more I read about singularity, psychology, neuroscience, and (good ol’) economics, I am growing skeptical. My problem is not with technology- I love it! I love that we are understanding more about our selves while creating a tool that mimics our senses and understanding! It’s great how singularity has a plan, a vision. And everything is going according to plan. But why is it that we aren’t taking a step back and pondering if this is going to drive us straight off the cliff? Why is such a debate lacking, when it is quintessential?
In my native language, there is a commonly-used metaphor to imply the inappropriate use of something that is, in other circumstances, sacred. ‘Korangu kai-la poomalai‘ meaning a flower garland- which is an offering to the Gods on this side of the world, and therefore, highly pious in its significance, in the hands of a monkey- often considered a silly, poor-mannered animal with no sense of the appropriate.
Sometimes, I cannot but see a man taking out his phone and scrolling through all its contents just to exhibit his busy-ness, and compare him to the above mentioned monkey. Why can’t a man just stand in a queue observing the things around him anymore, risking the appearance of his and his attention being unwanted for just a few minutes?
Let’s pretend that you won’t label me a luddite, and focus on the matter at hand- how are you better off with technology? And don’t let the answers be ‘oh, I can now eat an avocado in India’ or ‘I can reach wherever I want, faster!’. In that case, why is it that so much of our food does not consist of all these fresh goodies, and is instead packed with MSG? And hell, what about the lost wonder of eating something exotic anymore? Why have so many of us traveled only to return back to our desk-jobs that we hate, when early man used to migrate and freely mingle with local communities, amalgamating ‘races’ to create the human world as it is today? Hell, why have so many of us traveled so little, when we can do it faster?
The aim is not to criticize technology, but to review what we are doing with it.