No pictures today– sometimes I have to rely on words alone. This is probably good for me, given that I’m an English major. Which brings me to…
A book recommendation!
Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman.
I first read this book as a senior in high school, when my father gave it to me (on top of a stack of other books) for my graduation. This is one of the top ten books that changed my life– not necessarily because it was beautifully written (in fact, Postman’s style can be pretty obtuse) but because it provoked me to re-think my relationship to technology, the media, and the world in general. Given that we live in a media-saturated (post)modern world (I am writing a blog post, not a letter, after all), it’s tricky to turn a critical lens on technology. But this book isn’t a sermon, and Postman is no Luddite. Rather, Amusing Ourselves to Death is a historical, psychological, and social exploration of media in the broadest sense, and the evidence that turns up is hard to ignore.
Here’s the foreword, which I’m quoting in full because it’s short and worth reading:
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, 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.
After reading AOTD, at 17 years old, I drastically reduced my time on the computer and in front of the television. It wasn’t a disciplinary cold-turkey sort of thing; I actually began to feel physically disgusted in front of a screen. I needed more conversations; more fresh air. More dirt. As a result, I began to reconnect with something I had forgotten: my rural, solitary, Southern, low-income, dirt-filled childhood.
Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m living on a farm. No cell phone service, no internet. Just ploughed fields, piles of scrap metal and construction remnants, and me. Maybe it’s the free time, or maybe because I just finished reading Huckleberry Finn for my senior comps in the fall, but I’ve begun to do really Southern things. Like whittling.
I’m sure my posts will get comically rural over the next few weeks.