Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the age of Facebook

In this blog post I am borrowing more than just the title from Niel Postman’s seminal work on media studies. I am also borrowing the metaphors which were utilized by him, originally spawned by my personal heroes, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. I quote the thesis of Postman’s work which has been succinctly stated at the wikipedia page (for I cannot improve on it) :

“Postman distinguishes the Orwellian vision of the future, in which totalitarian governments seize individual rights, from that offered by Aldous Huxley I Brave New World,where people medicate themselves into bliss, thereby voluntarily sacrificing their rights. Drawing an analogy with the latter scenario, Postman sees television’s entertainment value as a present-day “soma”, by means of which the consumers’ rights are exchanged for entertainment.”

I am also embedding a youtube clip for those who are do not have time to read the book (however I recommend it for a read to anyone who has an opinion on public discourse and mass media)

When I look at my friend feed on Facebook or Twitter it’s not a simple Orwell versus Huxley debate. To frame it as such would lead it the obvious conclusion that Huxley was right as we are saturated with entertainment, through game applications such as Farmville or Friend Tests/Quizzes which promote textbook narcissism. Moreover, the content of data, is by itself not rich or advancing social interests through being creative (I hope I am pardoned for content metering as it seems to be opposed to our democratic values of multiculturalism where there is only content, no objective “good” or “bad” content. Of course this doctrine has its limitations in penal law. For a recent post on this problem please see Fleeing from Judgment).

This deluge of “mindless” information which hinders our task of intelligent choice (or creates it in the first place), is also a problem of decreased privacy as highlighted in 1984. Here the centralized big brother which is the totalitarian government has to a certain extent been replaced by information island rulers (Mark Zuckerberg, Biz Stone). These island rulers collect, aggregate and publish information on us back to the other followers. Hence, we are ourselves generating the data, which is being utilized in an Orwellian method for a Brave New World. Any thoughts? Share them along with a post on how many crops you cultivated online today.

Personal Disclosure: I am also an active user of Facebook and Twitter. Whereas I use these tools as contact management and to share relevant information I do not use for Quizzes, Farmville and the like. I agree that some level of privacy will always be invaded for the exchange information and the consequent benefit, however, sharing of inconsequential details, “mindless” and “useless” information will unquestionably “dumb” us. I agree I cannot precisely define and differentiate between “good”, “bad” or “mindless” content and the “relevant information” that I publish. However, I do believe, that there are links between lowering the levee of privacy and the flood of information medicating us everyday. This post to a large extent is theoretical, I do not know how metered should privacy be, or how it should be safeguarded. What interests me is also how a legal response to the “inflicted pleasure” will be possible and consistent with our libertarian values by creating laws to safeguard privacy (once the theoretical boundaries are drawn, if they can be).

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