"Impersonal forces over which we have almost no control seem to be pushing us all in the direction of the Brave New Worldian nightmare; and this impersonal pushing is being consciously accelerated by representatives of commercial and political organizations who have developed a number of new techniques for manipulating, in the interest of some minority, the thoughts and feelings of the masses.”
– Aldous Huxley fr. 1958 Preface to Brave New World
Ten years later the baby boom generation, or bulge babies as we were termed in the UK, reached adulthood. The American baby boomers found themselves embroiled in a doomed war in Indo-China, and in much of the western world, students discovered street power.
We had a voice, but also needed information, preferably not that brought to us by the mass media. One source I relished in London was the American-based Whole Earth Catalog, first published in 1968, whose Guiding Tenet was as follows:
"We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far remotely done power and glory – as via government, big business, formal education, church – has succeeded to the point where the gross defects obscure actual gain. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, person power is developing – power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the Whole Earth Catalog."
As long ago as their Spring 1984 edition they were foreseeing the future role of personal computer networking.
"…. the flexible nature of telecommunications inspires everyone who tries it to do something different. I've seen people play games, order products, start small businesses that span continents on nationwide conferencing networks, retrieve public domain software or seek romance from free bulletin boards, investigate background material about specific news stories, get stock quotations, and work at home, sending their reports to the office by electronic mail."
What they didn't foresee was that large corporations with pet politicos, or as with Aburizal Bakrie, politicians with large corporations, would continue to manipulate "the thoughts and feelings of the masses." (As the latest batch of Wikileaks suggests, the American administration, which is in hock to corporate power, think Bakrie is "a potential US favorite to run for president in 2014."
Leopards do not change their spots so when "the masses" do rise up, as they did here in '97 and '98 and as we're witnessing with the "Arab Spring", the elite forces change sides for the moment, then revert to their corridors of power when it is considered safe to do so. (The military remains in control in Egypt.)
A British version of the Whole Earth Catalog was The Index of Possiblities whose "aim was to try and encompass the breadth of what [was seen] at the time as a new revolution in thinking in a series of five volumes that took broad general themes – Energy & Power, Structures & Systems, Communications, Down-To-Earth Life and Survival Facts, and Inventions, Discoveries, Explorations, Games containing cross-referenced information from not only many areas of science but also mysticism and religion – to form a new kind of encyclopedia for a new age."
That wonderfully provocative publication fundamentally firmed up my approach to life, one of continually asking "Why not?" rather than just "Why?"
Another publication, which I subscribed to until I left the UK, was Omni Magazine which eschewed consumerism and according to its publisher, Bob Guccione, offered a "controversial mixture of science fact, fiction, fantasy and the paranormal."
The mind is a wonderful machine: unlike a computer it can create a private fantasy world and can ask "what if" rather than "What?"
The kids who are growing up surrounded by cyber technology will have better hand-eye co-ordination than their parents, but shorter attention spans. They will be better at holding many things in their heads at once, but worse at remembering them afterwards.
fr.Review of Cyburbia – The Dangerous Idea That's Changing How We Live And Who We Are by James Harkin. pub. Little, Brown 2009.
Although I wonder.why students need a pencil for computer marked tests, it can be a weapon of choice, a chance to opt out of cyberspace. A better use for a pencil is doodling. Not only can this sharpen and enhance eye-mind-hand co-ordination, but what some view as idleness is the sub-conscious manifesting itself; just as a night's sleep can resolve a previous day's problems, so doodling can give one pause for thought, thus offering solutions or understanding, or much needed relief from a stressful situation. This is to be encouraged.
Thus proving the central thesis of the post: with imagination it is possible to opt out of the rat race. Amaze yourself and try to be what you want to be.