Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Amusing Ourselves to Death" - Neil Postman

I was reminded recently by novelist John Rachel of this book by Neil Postman. In the introduction to his book Postman said that the contemporary world was better reflected by Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement, than by Orwell's 1984, where they were oppressed by state control. Postman distinguishes the Orwellian vision of the future, in which totalitarian governments seize individual rights, from that offered by Huxley in Brave New World, where people medicate themselves into bliss, thereby voluntarily sacrificing their rights. "Pardon me, I need to Tweet something." And that is indeed where we find ourselves today - where the governments of China and indeed Vietnam seek to block their people from all sorts of media and decision making input (and output), while America, quite possibly more than any other country, simply opens the floodgates and let's the disinformation flow. And it is only in being away from America for some time that this becomes clear.

Want to cleanse oneself of alcohol and drugs? We have clinics and twelve step programs for that. Want to get off the habit of believing everything you see and hear on TV from embedded journalists? The withdrawal from this drug is a bitch, girlfriend. Kicking the habit is no easy trick. You've been breastfed for years. Care to question your teachers? Haven't we trained you against that?

And the best method for teaching compliance with the system? Attach a financial reward for good behaviour - a sort of Pavlovian response mechanism. Ring the bell, get the food. After years of writing my blogs faithfully and, sometimes controversially but always interestingly, I've attracted a legion of readers - arguably 20% of what the most successful English magazine in country can get on their website. But I do that with absolutely no budget. And therein lies the problem. The system pays for average - but it doesn't pay well at all for doing above average - because that takes chances and mistakes and a production of work that will only see a 5% return of really good stuff against all work done.

I remember a creative director telling me years ago that you could always take an outer space writer and pull him back to average, but you could never take an average writer and make him go to outer space. I would be the former. And in our media confusion confusion these days I find myself finding that there's a lot more truth in fiction than there is in what is presented as truth - and in that there is disinteresting fiction. At best the news bores the fuck out of most of us - but it rarely inspires any of us.

The Korean artist Paek Nam June was well known for installations involving 100s of television sets each broadcasting machine gun videos of millions of images. He coined the term Information Superhighway. It was his way of showing the world that as information became more prolific it would eventually, all, become incomprehensible. I was able to meet him in Seoul in 1995. He was right. 

"Our life is half natural and half technological. Half-and-half is good. You cannot deny that high-tech is progress. We need it for jobs. Yet if you make only high-tech, you make war. So we must have a strong human element to keep modesty and natural life." - Paek Nam June

Now with the Internet we are able to placate our love of average by watching dancing cats on YouTube. We can amuse ourselves to death if we like. Or not. Care to do something worthwhile? Here's the platform. The Revolution Will Not be Televised, but it might be here.

D a v i d E v e r i t t - C a r l s o n
Find me on TwitterFacebook or LinkedIn. Read my previous blog: The Wild Wild East Dailies.

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D a v i d E v e r i t t - C a r l s o n
Find me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Read my previous blog: The Wild Wild East Dailies.