A prophetic passage about the decline of American culture from Neil Postman’s excellent book Amusing Ourselves to Death:
“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
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, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.
Amusing Ourselves To Death is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
The Effects of Cyberspace on Human Connection:
“Am I using this technology, or is it using me?” Postman discusses new media and the “Faustian bargain” of technological change in the context of the emergence of the “Information Superhighway” and the Internet.
His Thoughts On The End of Education
His thoughts on how secular modern education provides students with no transcendent vision or narrative to ignite the spark of purpose and meaning that motivates exceptional curiosity and learning.
Neil Postman’s Life And Ideas:
He discusses his ideas about the decline of public discourse in the age of television and how the function of television is to gather an audience, which can be sold to advertisers. The function of social media is very much the same.
“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.”
– Neil Postman
Replace television throughout his landmark book with YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. to see exactly how relevant it is today’s social media age.
A good review of his ideas about how modern schooling turns children into mass consumers by stripping them of a sense of meaning and purpose separate from the needs and values of the economic system.
While many people (including myself a decade ago) felt that social media would create a better understanding of current issues, the opposite has actually happened. Today, social media algorithms have created a dystopian culture of digital tribalism and filter bubbles.