Orwell got it partly right. But it’s not the use of two-way monitors that would impose social uniformity and mental numbness in modern society. Rather, I think it is the sheer ubiquity of the old-fashioned one-way TV set. Granted I’m not a Luddite. I love my DVDs. But the difference here is that I have control over what’s playing in my house.
The problem I’m talking about is finding TVs in banks, post offices, doctors’ offices, restaurants and even restrooms. My recent Orwellian experience was discovering that a giant TV had finally been installed in our employee cafe. I suppose we were simply behind the times. I used to take my lunch there before noon, to avoid the crowds. Now with the TV on it’s always crowded. The omnipresent screen is worse than physical claustrophobia; it’s mental suffocation. Worse yet, there is a kind of collectivism in that we are all forced to witness the same media pabulum 24/7.
Perhaps the real metaphor is not Orwell’s Oceania but Huxley’s Brave New World, with its comfortable big-brotherism enforced by mass entertainment. True civilization is only possible with civility. It cannot be enforced directly by the state, though it can be assisted by the old common sense laws that have fallen mostly into abeyance. As for the marketplace, it is no more than a mirror of a society’s morals. Yet it seems to me that real liberty is possible only where we draw a line as to where others may intrude in our personal space. I have nothing against marketing in a store, but I don’t like it on my doorstep or on my phone. As for public places, that becomes a little trickier. I’m not sure I can point to an objective standard here. It’s mainly intuitive.
But one thing I am sure of—a hallmark of totalitarian society is that the public sphere crowds out the private and it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve a degree of detachment in daily life where one’s thoughts are truly one’s own.
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