Updated: Sep 8, 2021
Author Neil Postman, in the Foreword of his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, brings to light the opposing views of novelist George Orwell and writer Aldous Huxley in regard to societal oppression caused by technology and information. Orwell believed society would be oppressed by a “Big Brother” who would control the technology and the information, while Huxley believed that society would become so involved with technologies and being overinformed that the need to think would be forgotten. (Postman, 2006) In his book Postman entertained the concept that Huxley’s older and less known theory to be true, and though I am inclined to support this theory I am also equally as inclined to support Orwell’s theory as well.
I believe that both Orwell’s and Huxley’s fears have been realized in current American society. Which one applying to which instance comes more from the type of information, the age of the recipient, the intelligence of the recipient, the form of reception, and the perception of the importance of the given information. There is a reason that each night when the local public access television stations air their nightly news that the stories are all identical. Everything from the local news, to the national news, to the sports, and the weather.
Canned soup, so to speak, the news is ready to eat, a full meal, and you don’t end up wondering if someone else got something better to eat because locally we all ate the same “canned soup”. With all the local news stations airing the same information two things happen, first, there is an implied sense of trust in all the stations because if they are all saying it then it must be true. Second, there is an implied tone, a specific feeling the news stations want the local public to have collectively.
To support Orwell’s fears here we have multiple sources, feeding the local masses the same stories, with the same perceived tone, in order to illicit the same response from the recipients, therefore controlling the collective mind of a local area. It has been found that local channels when covering national news will follow the lead of one or two larger syndicates in order to ensure trust and support in their reporting. Therefore, you will see the exact same news story about the California Wildfires on New York, Chicago, Houston, and Miami as you would in Los Angeles.
In April of 2018 more that 190 new stations reported the exact same story, with the news script. All of these news stations were owned by the Sinclair company, who later went on to tell their anchors to denounce the “fake news” claims, and push the agenda that they were trying to prove a point in the practice of safe reporting practices. This brought to light the power Sinclair had to influence the country as a whole and the FCC stepped in allowing the company to consolidate power and centralize new production. As helpful as that may sound it still allows vast freedoms in reporting for the Sinclair company who has since acquired the Tribune Media company. (Domonoske, 2018)
This kind of oversight into news reporting allows just one company to control the impressions of hundreds of news stations impacting the thoughts of millions of viewers. This sounds like Big Brother at work.
Let’s also look at the impact of social media, here is where Huxley’s fears are realized. The human mind has such a need to feel connected to others that a person will practically strip naked and run down the street in search of acceptance and approval. This has such a heavy impact that seeing friends and family having a good time on social media with out you can cause “various physical and psychological consequences such as complex cognitive thought,” said lead author Jessica Covert, a graduate student in the University of Buffalo’s Department of Communications. Michael Stefanone, an associate professor at the University of Buffalo, said, “Regular, benign and common use of this platform can lead to short-term inhibition of intelligent thought.” He went on to clarify that social media addicts were not the only ones susceptible to this phenomenon. Social Media provides the sea of irrelevance for drowning the truth that Huxley so feared.
“Social media can be so detrimental to one’s psyche that there are rehab centers devoted to helping people cope with social media addictions. And teenagers are most at risk according to Business Insider. A study from Pew Research revealed that a quarter of teens ages 13 to 17 say the effect of social media is mostly negative because of bullying, it’s potential to harm relationships, creating unrealistic views of others’ lives and peer pressure.” (Wolfson 2018)
Cleary showing just one of the many ways todays technologies are feeling “man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” (Huxley 1965) This only begins to scratch the surface of how technologies have oppressed freedom of thought.
Both Orwell and Huxley had clear visions in the early 1900 of how technologies would infiltrate our everyday lives and our minds. There is no way they would have been able to imagine to the levels of which this could possibly happen given their limited knowledge of what technologies were to become in the future. They were both right in their fears. Orwell feeling like “Big Brother” would control us from inside the machine. Huxley feeling, we would become so self-indulged that we would surrender our free thoughts to these technologies. This is a relevant topic of the times, especially when applied to our freedoms in thought to democracy. Does pure freedom of thought exist any longer or are we just cogs in the machine.
Domonoske, C. (2018). Video Reveals Power of Sinclair, As Local News Anchors Recite Script In Unison. NPR.
Huxley, A., & Huxley, A. (1965). Brave New World; & Brave New World Revisited.
Postman, N. (2005). Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show
Business. Penguin Books.
Wolfson, A. (2018). Social Media May be Preventing Us from Having Intelligent Thoughts. MarketWatch