In his authoritative foreword to the incomparable Amusing Ourselves to Death(1985), Neil Postman juxtaposes the dystopian fears of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four:
-- What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
-- What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book.
-- Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.
-- Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.
-- Orwell feared that the turth 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.
Postman assumes an either/or. Either our entertainment saturated world was headed for Orwell's 1984 or Huxley's brave new world. But had Postman not died in 2003 and could now critique the Web 2.0 world of personalized democratic media, I think he would be contemplating something quite the opposite -- a future that simultaneously conformed to both Orwell and Huxley's dystopias.
Take the impact of Google, the Web 2.0 phenomenon par excellence. On the one hand, Google has flattened knowledge into an advertisement riddled trashheap of irrelevant information. That's the Brave New World part. On the other hand, Google's intimate knowledge of our desires, its personalized database of human intentions derived from what each of us feeds into the ubiquitous search engine, is the Web 2.0 version of Orwell's Big Brother.
At the end of this foreward, Postman argues that "Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us."
But what happens if we simultaneously love and hate technologies like Google and, more importantly, that Google simultaneously loves and hates us? What happens if we become so addicted to Google's convenience and wisdom that, even though we know it's dangerous, we can't give it up. Then is our ruin doubled?