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  • T. W. Emory

"A cross-eyed species with extremely muscular thumbs"

Not quite thirty years after the publication of his dystopian novel,Brave New World, Aldous Huxley wrote a non-fiction follow-up, Brave New World Revisited. This book expressed Huxley’s view that the world was turning into Brave New World a lot sooner that he’d imagined. Huxley noted: “In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies—the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions… A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in the calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those who would manipulate and control it.”

Aldous Huxley made the above comment in 1958, and since he died five years later, he didn’t live to see the non-stop distractions of today, spawned in large part by technological gadgetry that Huxley could only dream about. In the same year in which Brave New World Revisited was published, journalist Mike Wallace interviewed Ben Hecht, screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist. At one point during the interview Wallace reminded Hecht that he’d once said that television is “a babysitting industry cooing at the crowds” and that “it threatens to turn us all into furniture.” Hecht replied: “It will when it gets matured. When you get your screen eight by ten feet picture on the wall and color and three dimensions, I’m afraid America will lose the use of its legs.” Were he alive today, what might Ben Hecht think now?

During the period now looked back upon as the Golden Age of Television, radio comedian Fred Allen quipped that television was “the triumph of machine over people,” and he predicted that TV would make people have eyes the size of cantaloupes and brains the size of peas. Being a radio entertainer, Fred Allen was arguably biased. Still, if he were alive today, would his biases and wit possibly lead him to predict that today’s mobile phones will ultimately produce a cross-eyed species with extremely muscular thumbs? One wonders.

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