A relatively familiar view of the future typically cleaves to the Orwellian 1984 template: miserable with constant shortages and the state, or a variant of the state (corporations sometimes fill that space), controlling its subjects: their capacity to think and setting a boundary on owning their personal and emotional life.
Contrast that unhappy forecast with Neil Postman’s 1985 paraphrase of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World in which people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think, for what Huxley feared was there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance, trapped in a trivial culture and man’s infinite appetite for distractions. Thus in Brave New World people are controlled by inflicting pleasure: in short, what we love will ruin us.
In Postman’s 30 year old book the target was TV, but he saw something from a then 54 year old book, which is now over 85 years old, and somehow, not only captures the distraction that TV offers, but also Instagram, binge-viewing, box sets and the multitude of other apps and devices which beguile the lazy time in 2017.
The distinction between the text and image, one in which the image is clearly victorious is central to Postman’s thesis. The virtues of text versus the corrupting effects of edited images persists; it gives opinion writers a ready topic and fuels inter-generational debate.
The intriguing question is whether Huxley had accurately defined oppression, in a similar sense to Isaiah Berlin’s concept of negative liberty, through gratification, passivity and egoism. It may be that the blank but self-conscious stare of the selfie subject demonstrates Huxley’s perspicacity.
©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2017. All Rights Reserved.