Thursday, November 15, 2007

Technology in the Brave New World

I notice that in a few recent posts I've spoken favorably of changes in technology and communiciations. As I am not a wacky futuristic libertarian, with unbridled faith in reason, technology, and progress, I thought it appropriate to post this Huxleyan warning courtesy of Neil Postman:

"What Huxley teaches is that in the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.

In America, Orwell’s prophecies are of small relevance, but Huxley’s are well under way toward being realized. For America is engaged in the world’s most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions made possible by the electric plug. This is an experiment that began slowly and modestly in the mid-nineteenth century and has now, in the latter half of the twentieth, reached a perverse maturity in America’s consuming love-affair with television. As nowhere else in the world, Americans have moved far and fast in bringing to a close the age of the slow-moving printed word, and have granted to television sovereignty over all of their institutions. By ushering in the Age of Television, America has given the world the clearest available glimpse of the Huxleyan future."

---Neil Postman, "Amusing Ourselves to Death"


Blogger John Savage said...

Darrell, great post. I'm reminded of the recent warnings about how information about people's private lives is being collected by sites like Facebook, which could become a storehouse of information for an intrusive government. Big Brother is collecting our information by providing us something we think we love. (Disclosure: I'm not on Facebook, but finding that out showed me that I had better not start.)

I really enjoyed most of Postman's books. It took me a while to realize that they're conservative books as easily as liberal ones, though.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

I wondered if my foray into your territory would elicit a comment.

I've only read one of Postman's other books ("The Disappearance of Childhood") and found it fascinating as well.

I don't really know anything of his politics (I think he is deceased), but there are leftists from whom conservatives could learn a thing or two. I've often appreciaated the work of Christopher Lasch and Alexander Cockburn, for example.

12:59 PM  
Blogger John Savage said...

Darrell, my understanding was that Postman started to identify as a conservative only a few years before his death in 2003. That after considering himself a left-radical for many decades. However, he did always believe that our schools were wasting young minds, just like conservative homeschoolers do.

With your concern about the effects of new technology, you would enjoy Technopoly, I think.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Darrell said...

I'll have to put it on my Christmas list. Any idea if Postman converted to Christianity? His ideas are music to the ears of this Protestant, and his plea for a recover of the written word echoes my Reformation forebearers and is something I'm sympathetic to as a father trying to educate my children classically.

3:43 PM  

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