Taking back the capacity to think

Tristan Harris recently opened an interview with the following words from Neil Postman:

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. 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, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, 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.”

In the end, both Huxley and Orwell may prove to be right with one phenomenon leading to the other.

But not if you make different choices. Not if you apply discipline and avoid the trap of pleasure technology can so easily bring. 

But you must be diligent and thoughtful. 

You can’t move throughout the world without thinking of the impact of each new shiny toy upon your life. 

Google may have already undone your capacity to think, but it’s never too late to get it back. 

Instead of being led astray and enslaved by technology, use it to order good books and read them. 

Books that make your mind work and sweat a little. 

Books that feed your mind solid food instead of candy. 

Books about history, theology, economics, and business. 

These may sound boring to you now, but you’ll sing a different toon in the end.