I’m reading a book by Neil Postman, called Amusing Ourselves to Death. It’s a bit of an eye-opener… I’ve suspected this for a while but it’s still chilling to read about it.
We spent decades fearing 1984 – George Orwell’s book about control and Big Brother and, when that year finally came, we were dead chuffed that it hadn’t happened. Happily, we ignored its predecessor, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and promulgated exactly what Huxley feared by developing a TV series actually called Big Brother.
People often say ‘The Media This and The Media That, claiming that the TV, radio etc. are misleading us or not reporting what we want to hear but the truth is that modern internet media, particularly, is mostly driven by what we click on or watch. So we get exactly what the majority of us are asking for. It wasn’t like that before the Internet but it’s getting more and more like that now.
What we like most is trivia: endless information in soundbites that minimises the story. When I was a radio reporter, in the 1980s, we were told to keep reports under three and a half minutes’ long as that was how long the average person would maintain interest. Nowadays, it’s more like 30 seconds. I’m guilty of it too… the more time I spend on news sites and social media, the shorter my attention span gets.
Including passive entertainment. Passive entertainment is a drug. Violence presented as entertainment dulls our response to violence and makes us addicted to more. You may notice that the average length of shot is three to five seconds, so the eye rarely rests. This increases our addictive response of wanting more, more more.
You only have to look at our favourite TV shows – detectives solving murders – to realise that we are binding ourselves into a world of restless violence. There are more and more and more TV detectives solving violent crimes. Even this week, the front cover of the TV magazines are full of Murder in Provence. Great idea – much loved actors in beautiful rural scenes. Solving murders. Sigh…
This why I ask every client I see to take at least one day a week away from Facebook etc. And one where they watch absolutely no violence anywhere. It’s incredibly healing – and incredibly difficult to do. It’s the reason we were meant to take a Sabbath – to come back to our real selves.
What we think is the problem is that our freedoms are going to be taken away
What is the true problem is that we narcotic our senses away voluntarily through distraction, whether it’s Box Sets, social media, food or drink/drugs.
Here’s a quick comparison of 1984 with Brave New World, according to Neil Postman. I think we really, really need to know what we are doing to ourselves and to our children. And, yes, there is horrific stuff from 1984 in our world, for sure, but I don’t think it’s the primary problem…
Orwell feared externally imposed oppression.
Huxley feared that people would come to be addicted to the technologies that undo their capacity to think.
Orwell feared those who ban books
Huxley feared that there would be no reason to ban a book because no one would want to read it.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information
Huxley feared that we would be so subsumed in information overload that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.
Owell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.
Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance
Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture
Huxley feared that we would become a trivial culture obsessed with distractions
Orwell wrote that what we hate and fear will ruin us
Huxley wrote that what we think we love will ruin us.
So… what do we do? We come to ourselves; we take time for the present moment; we feel our emotions instead of distracting them away; we take a Sabbath; we meditate; we go out into nature. All those are healing. All those will start a healing.
It’s up to you…
And I’ll leave the final words to Neil Postman – who was writing in the 1980s – long before the Big Brother TV show and reality TV:
In the Huxleyan prophesy, Big Brother does not watch us by his choice. We watch him, by ours. 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, then a nation finds itself at risk.