Huxley predicted that the deliberate flood of information, perhaps a more lethal strategy than Orwellian censorship, would dent our interest in reading books, having active opinions, and therefore make us passive.
The internet, of course, puts information distribution on hyper-speed, skipping from one issue to the next. People consume and quickly forget what’s important, all the while externalizing everything onto the screen. We have lost our ability to pay attention, not just because of tweeting politicians but because of screaming merchants.
There’s yet another book dissecting this very topic of how technology hijacks the brain. Author James Williams of Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy writes:
“The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time. We therefore have an obligation to rewire this system of intelligent, adversarial persuasion before it rewires us.”
The former Google strategist has witnessed the intentional creation of distractive technologies that overpower human will so we no longer “want what we want to want.”
The Financial Times book review writes:
In an attempt to invent new linguistic concepts, the author plays with three types of attentional light: spotlight, starlight and daylight, pertaining to doing, being and knowing.
In this respect, Williams admires the free-speaking Greek philosopher Diogenes. One day, while sunning himself in Corinth, he was visited by Alexander the Great, who promised to grant him any wish. The cranky Diogenes replied: “Stand out of my light!” Williams wants a handful of West Coast tech executives to stop blocking out our human light, too.
Perhaps if we regain our detachment from irreality we’ll be able to look back and pinpoint attention distortion with fresh eyes.