AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH
There is no question that we are in the most rapidly changing era of humanity and that the hyper novelty of social is impacting our cognitive abilities in ways we have never seen preivously. And my dismissal of social media often makes people mistakenly categorize me as a Luddite. But I probably consume more media than most people (more on that in the coming weeks) and I'm deeply excited about the possibility to harness future technologies for positive social, educational, and economic change.
But what I have found in the last year is that it takes a sobering stance to be able to navigate all of the changes that are being introduced to us. I have found that the key to my success and contentment without social is my ability to think critically and creatively about what arises as a result of being forced to make the most of what I have without a social media following and by noticing the world around me as a result of not defaulting to an algorithm to create my world view.
For the past year, my perspective has always been if you love social, use it. I continue to teach people how to create content that aligns with their culture and how to analyze their data. I'm always clear that I'm not here to push my vision on them, but to help facilitate their own. But over the past few months, I've tried to stretch entrepreneurs to think about what else they can be doing instead of social because I love the creative solutions that arise when we are forced to take the most common choice off the table and imagine a world of possibilities without it.
And what has been most disturbing to me as I work with entrepreneurs is that in many, I have noticed their capacities to think critically and creatively diminish as they fall victim to the myth that if you want to stay relevant in the 21st century you need to adapt your business to the tools of the time. What I find so odd about this is that I now think anyone using social is actually behind the times. It's no longer 2012. Social isn't novel anymore, add strategies that birthed the successful digitally native brands of that era can no longer be replicated. Yet still, most entrepreneurs are stuck.
This loss of both creative and critical thinking comes as no surprise as Neil Postman warned us over 4 decades ago in the forward of his 1984 classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death:
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, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.