Left to Our Own Devices: Digital Distractions and Addictions

In the first half of last century two chilling novels were written predicting what the future could look like. In 1932 Aldous Huxley published Brave New World and in 1949 George Orwell published 1984. They gave two very different pictures of what the world and culture would become like. In Orwell’s prophecy the world is ruled by Big Brother and controlled by Thought Police. Picture communist controlled counties like North Korea or China or Russia. Huxley’s was different. Listen to Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, p. vii-viii: 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, [amusing ourselves to death with an] almost infinite appetite for distractions. In 1984 people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us. People might rise up against a culture of oppression and coercion, but who will rise up against a culture of pleasure and entertainment and mindless amusement? Consider this sermon one small attempt to wake us up out of our stupor and equip us for some form of resistance before we make shipwreck of our faith.