Brave And New

I said recently in an email that I thought Huxley had it nailed—the most effective form of oppression isn’t force and violence. It’s privilege and comfort. Make the prison cell a luxuriant one and they won’t complain. Mostly.

But I’m not sure it’s 100% there, actually, because so many people these days have the weary, joyless resignation of utter defeat rather than ignorant bliss. I think this expanding technology, heralded by the Internet explosion since the Millennium, for all its addictive, compulsive, habit-forming qualities—this surfeit of neverending distraction—is not, in truth, a very happy addiction.

Things used to be more fun, folks.

That ain’t nostalgia. And it certainly isn’t Ludditism, because in my own love-hate way I use this blasted tech as much as anyone, and am more facile with it than a lot of people. But I know it’s destroying everything. I know it’s sucking the life out of everything. I know it’s ushering people into greater (physical) isolation and more obvious anti-social behaviour. It’s pretty clear to anyone who cares to look. And from an establishment/power standpoint, dividing people is pretty damned useful. Just sayin’.

Another writer who had it nailed, of course, was EM Forster. In 1909, he predicted the Internet (very accurately!!) and the unfortunate way in which it would undermine human interactions. Of course, predicting shit doesn’t stop it happening. That’s crediting humans with way more sense than they possess. Most people just want to have their thoughts and activities decided by others. And we tend to get what we ask for. Oh, I take a Chomsky view on democracy, so don’t start me on that smelly old chestnut.

If you haven’t already done so, you can read Forster’s “The Machine Stops” right here. It might just make you think for a while. At least until the next distraction pops up. If you get past the first paragraph before being gripped with the urge to Twit or update your FuckFace status or whatever…

3 thoughts on “Brave And New”

  1. In some respects it’s not hard to see the world of The Machine Stops, but given the divisions within the world, it would take something catastrophic to create the right conditions for it. I still like to have a physical book, CD, comic or DVD rather than just reach into the ether for it. Some of these things would be useless without the electricity to run the machines needed to play them on and maybe I’d have to use all the paper to keep warm, if there was no electricity. More and more, we need electricity to do the smallest of things, yet the thought of no electricity doesn’t seem to bother anyone

    1. Like much dystopian science fiction, The Machine Stops is more of an impressionistic glimpse into the future than a strict blueprint, but there is inarguable (albeit calculatedly subtle) social pressure for us all to move towards the ’empty room’ scenario. During an ad break on C4 earlier, there were promotions for Sky’s downloadable ‘box sets’ (which are nothing of the sort, just packets of expensive electrons) and some new vacuum cleaner clearly being pitched as the new Dyson. Both were set in sterile white habitats devoid of any furniture other than a white sofa (just two seats) and white shelving for the few personal items permitted in this brave new world.

  2. “Make the prison cell a luxuriant one and they won’t complain. Mostly.”

    Or, like cooking a lobster, just keep raising the temperature very slowly and it’ll never notice.

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