In Orwell’s 1984, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Huxley’s Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
We all have inherited a world, for good or bad, we have become a part of it. We are surrounded by things or way of doing things, that we don’t question it.
Why do we do the things we do? And not to start on a negative note. First, we should have an appreciation of the comfortable and prosperous world that we have inherited which took a great deal of time to develop.
And one of the great things that have happened is the rise of technology to bring the world at our service. But what always should be kept in check is that we become the master of technology and it should not happen that technology become our master.
In this article, we are going to see if the technology augmented medium of information is on the verge of becoming our master and dictating or deciding the things we do or the way we do it.
The use of social media, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp etc. have an immense impact on our health – physical, psychological or spiritual.
These kinds of mediums are so pervasive and ubiquitous around us that we don’t even question how it is affecting us, if, indeed, it is affecting us.
But some people study these things carefully — often called culture critic – who see where a culture or society is heading towards and what has been the cause of trajectory which it has taken or is going to take.
Recently, I read a book titled ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ by Neil Postman which sheds light on the overtake of entertainment over all forms of public discourse whether it be politics, education or religion.
The author starts by revisiting the work of two prophesizer, who have prophesied in the past about the direction the society can take and how the masses will be controlled in the near future, and how they will come or made to surrender their abilities to think, knowingly or unknowingly.
One, George Orwell who in his novel 1984, which was first published in 1949, argued that a totalitarian regime would impose external repression such as mass surveillance, citizens spying on each other, curb people’s access to information or ban books.
These methods will be imposed on people to subjugate them.
On the contrary, Aldous Huxley who in his novel New Brave World, which was first published in 1932, argued that people will come to adore the technology so much and will be distracted by a sea of information and will be drowned in a trivial-information-driven pleasure that people will give up their ability to think.
People will come to love their oppression. Neil Postman argues that we should fear (remember he published his book in 1985) that Huxleyan warning is about to come true and we can see that very clearly this in our world.
The book has a lot of great ideas and insights, which was published in 1985, about the effects of television on American society during that time.
But due to the penetration of technology, those effects can be seen on the large population of the world, that it becomes a global phenomenon that affects all of us around the world.
One of the critical idea presented in the book is the idea of ‘Medium is the Metaphor’, which can be roughly said as to understand the message we have to understand the medium through which the message is being conveyed.
And the idea here is that television – and by extension, all forms of media enabled by internet – can present the information in particular format to be consumed by people, and that form is the form of entertainment.
Every media has a dispensation towards a particular faculty in humans. In other words, the message has to be redefined to cater to the medium.
To give an example, most of us have watched shows talking about serious matters but employing a comical technique to make people laugh, let’s take the example of ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ (or any other show of the same format).
The guy is talking about some severe issues affecting people using jokes to present it so that people can sit through twenty minutes of the show.
So the idea here is that the content has to be presented in a form that makes people laugh, i.e. it has to be entertaining, and these kinds of comedy shows or stand-ups have become the things of our age, where there is a lot of claims to bring out serious issue in the public arena through jokes and comedy.
And it’s not limited to one show or one format of the show, if we look at 24×7 news channels which peddle in front of us low-quality content in the name of news, that has to be done in a particular way, that is to add mirch-masala as we say it.
It always has to be sensational; it still has to be in the form of breaking news, stupid, catchy lines which rarely makes sense.
The phoney debates being conducted on the news channels where people fight and abuse each other, and have even slapped each other on live TV, has become the norm.
And many times I have asked people, why are they even watching such debates which have no intellectual offering – reply mostly is –”maaza ata hai, lad rahe hai!” “It’s entertaining. They are fighting”.
So, the point being made here is that the serious discussions about our politics, about the issues that affect, receives a setback and is lost in the clamour of our laughter.
This is not very hidden or subtle arguments that need to be scratched a lot, but the bottom line is that entertainment has enveloped us from all the sides and all of our critical discourses.
Our obsession with entertainment has sucked meaningful discussion from our culture – whether be it in our homes and workplaces.
Once when we had television and no other means, we could only watch it only during specific hours whenever one was free.
But with the advent of internet-enabled connectivity and smartphones in our hand, we are, and sometimes we do, in the process of taking on the internet in one form or another.
Television is being rapidly replaced by Netflix and other online video streaming services. Social media services also don’t connect with people, but also provides us with different videos and images in a never-ending scroll down feeds; they also act as a venue for entertainment.
As the internet has connected us always on the go to these forms of entertainment we are always taking it in the form of web series or just passive meme-viewing on Facebook/Instagram. Whether we are going to the office and coming back from office, in bus, trains, taxis, autos, we are always connected.
We wake up, and the first thing we do is check our phones, and the last thing we do is consume all kind of unnecessary information which would never help me by an iota.
And this is affecting not only one age group, and it can be seen across all age groups from teenagers to old people.
In no way, it is being said that we should not indulge in entertainment activities as we all know it very well recreation is a vital part of life.
But, what is being said is that there is a limit to everything. We cannot afford to engross ourselves into it so much that we forget everything.
Our relationship with our parents, our siblings, our neighbours, our communities, or at worst our selves, that we lie on the bed and our eyes glued to the five-inch screen so that we can’t even go out for exercise or workout for our well-being.
That we don’t put any efforts towards personal growth and don’t have any particular goals and the most precious time of our life is passing by.
One of the many reasons I quit using Facebook, Twitter because it is difficult to identify false from truth. There’s too much information, but of little or no use. Everything that is presented is in the form that can make us laugh.
People with minimal or little understanding feel the urge to share their despicable views on serious issues. In the words of Neil Postman –
“In the Huxleyan Prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours.
There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is defined as perpetual round of entertainments.
When serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a definite possibility.”
To tackle the problem, first, we need to identify and understand the problem and acknowledge, yes, there is a problem, then only we can bring about any real solution.
The effect of this kind of unabated use of technology has started to unravel before us which itself require a lengthy discussion and is being warned about to us by many people.
One of them, Chamath Pilapathiya, founder of Social capital, who once worked with Facebook as a senior executive, when asked about his involvement in building Facebook, the biggest social media platform, and its effect on masses, has this to say —
“the dopamine-driven short term feedback loop that we have created are destroying how society works”.
He further adds that –
“no civil discourse, no co-operation, misinformation, mistruth…this is not an American problem, this is a global problem.
It is eroding the core foundation of how people behave by and between each other”.
Then comes the warning that needs to be taken seriously –
“I didn’t want to get innately programmed.
Bad actors now can manipulate large swathes of people”.
When asked, if he seems to take personal responsibility for it, he does say
“I don’t have a solution to the problem, I can control my decisions, i.e. I don’t use this shit, and I can control my children’s choice, i.e. my children are not allowed to use this shit, but people need to do a soul searching for themselves.
Your behaviours, you don’t realise it, but you are being programmed, and now you have to decide how much of your intellectual independence you are willing to give up”.
And he is not the only one person who is warning about this. There are a lot of people who see clearly that our obsession with these modes of media has become.
If we look at the problem of fake/hoax videos being circulated on social media platforms, especially WhatsApp, gullible people are ready to believe it to be true, no matter if the video was recorded a decade ago and is being circulated as something that happened two days back.
Majority of people are readily accepting what is being peddled in the name of information.
And I know we all have the realisation that we are overdoing this thing, but still, it is tough for us to break free from the addiction of these things.
So, at last, let’s have a look at some of the things that we can do to save ourselves from this pleasure trap.
Strong will to break-free
This is the single most crucial factor if you want to give up your addiction or dependence on these technologies.
Because there are a lot of advices that can be found on the internet to break free from these tools, but all that will be of no use if we don’t have a strong will to change and make better use of our time.
Find your interests
We don’t spend enough time introspecting what the thing that interests us, that activity which when we do we have a feeling of complete fulfilment and satisfaction is.
It can be anything, varies from person to person. Go out and try different things, and then choose the one which makes the most sense to you.
Make personal goals
One should make a list of personal goals – short term and long term – and a daily basis plan to achieve those goals, a short term especially.
Because the reason we are filling our time with unnecessary entertainment is that we have too much time and have not overthought about doing something meaningful with that time, which if used wisely, would reflect in oneself two or five years down the line if one has invested his/her time more prudently.
Fix your time
One way can be to clock your time per day when you are spending your time on social media. Check only once or twice a day if it is vital. Turn off the push notifications which are big distractions.
Find some NGO’s that are doing work in the area that interests you, it may be in the field of education, an organisation working on issues related to women, child or drug abuse etc. It will help you utilise your time in a constructive way, and you will be able to give back to your society and help you to be a complete human being.
Find out time for training on your weekly schedule; it can be twice or thrice a week. If we still have extra time to fill up, go out in a park take a walk, jog, exercise or maybe do yoga that will keep your body healthy.
Not finding time to exercise just because we are busy scrolling feeds lying on the bed in the dimly lighted room while a beautiful evening is just passing by.
At last, the change can only come from you. There will be no shortage of content waiting to entertain you at the click of a mouse or a tap of your screen. The entertainment machine will keep churning the content for you and keep you busy until you die. But you have to ask yourself, at what cost?
This article is a guest contribution submitted by Mohd Sadiq Siddiqui who is an Electronics & Communication Engineer by Profession and a Writer by Passion. Get in touch with him on LinkedIn.