Thursday, 30 June 2011

Archived Authors on Web 2.0

Chris Henderson

Aldous Huxley: Brave New World:

Aldous Huxley wrote The Brave New World in 1932 and looked back at it in his essay The Brave New World Revisited in 1958. Those years are way back in the realms of the prehistoric if one considers the instant by instant history that defines Web 2.0.
Even the futuristic devices in his tale fortelling the future remain quaintly analogue. Well, he was after all not a science fiction writer but social commentator who set this tale in the days to come.
In the 1932 classic, which has visions of a consumerist and robotic society, he comes closer to the world of today than many would give him credit for, in spite of the absence of the digital.
While in no way is this article suggesting that he foretold the world to be with stunning accuracy, there are certain approximations which, nonetheless, are striking.
The entire premise of the Brave New World, a futuristic world in which human beings go through their lives in a celebration of youth, entertainment and hedonistic sexual gratification, hinges on an enormous initiative of manufactured consent. Brainwashed from birth and across generations, they have come to accept the consumerist culture as an axiomatic truth while questions raised about this way of life is not only discouraged, but also considered freakishly antisocial.
However, the most interesting feature that strikes me is the concept of hypnopaedia. Consumerist and other acceptable dictums repeated over and over from infancy, for years while the individual sleeps, ultimately results in a human being who is one of his group, a team player, someone who knows what is the accepted right and wrong. In other words, a  model citizen leading a model life.
While the trailing paedia in the coinage points to delicious parallels in the connected world, it is the concept of numbing the idle brain with a series of external agents that seems to be more than prophetic, especially so in the world of Hollywood, You Tube, Corporations and Uncle Sam.
Some of the slogans that are used in the hypnopaedic treatment almost echo the current world.
“Stability, Identity, Community.”
“Old clothes are beastly. We always throw away old.”
“I do love flying, I do love flying.”
“Hug me till you drug me.”
“A gram (of hallucinogen) is better than a damn.”
An idle consumerist society, tuned in to entertainment readily available, addicted to sexual gratification, the common thrills of intoxicants, consumption and the ersatz, simulated adventure of travel.
iPod plugged to the the ears, surfing on the hand held smart phone, videos of Shakira and Lady Gaga on YouTube, a backpacking visit to Europe, and the hallucinogen of FaceBook.
You look at the Russian youth or the connected American junkie. It is a stable world with unique identity fostered by a socially networked community  – where human values and reading Shakespeare are indeed seen as the traits of a Savage. As was depicted in the masterwork by Huxley.
Stability, Identity, Community

Kurt Vonnegut : Cat’s Cradle

In Cat’s Cradle Kurt Vonnegut speaks, among other things, of Bokononism - a religion based on foma or harmless untruths, written in the form of calypsos.
While Bokononism is full of its own tantalisingly funny terminology, which may give one a vin-dit (a sudden shove towards Bokononism) or help one understand the connected world (busy busy busy busy - words Bokononists whisper upon witnessing an example of how interconnected everything is), the one word which gives a stunning description of current online activism and cause connected communities is granfalloon.
A granfalloon, defined by the Bonkomist lexicon, is a false karass.
A karass is a group of people who, often unknowingly, are working together to do God's will.
A granfalloon, in contrast to a karass, is another group of people who outwardly choose or claim to have a shared purpose or identity, but whose mutual associations are meaningless.
Some of the examples that Vonnegut provides in his masterpiece are – the Communist Party, the Daughters of American Revolution, the General Electric Company or any nation anytime anywhere.
The last example is further stressed in the following passage - they had found a can of white paint, and on the front doors of the cab Frank had painted white stars, and on the roof he had painted the letters of a granfalloon: U.S.A.
To define a granfallon, Bokonon, the founder of Bokononism, uses the calypso “If you wish to study a granfalloon, just remove the skin of a toy balloon.”
One wonders what Bokonon or Vonnegut would have written or sung about the Web 2.0 slacktivists, whose idea of being connected to a cause is a series of  forwards, likes and retweets, with smileys, on issues of supposed unifying social issue. “Walk like an Egyptian :-)”, 13 Likes
Busy Busy Busy Busy has changed to Like Like Like Like
In Bokonomist terms, this is inviting pool-pah.

William Styron: Sophie’s Choice

Sophie Zawitowska, the Polish survivor of Auschwitz, overhears a group of young American students talking of their travails with psychoanalysis and their therapists.
It is 1947, the embers of the recent mindless mayhem still glow hot, sparks visible every time one ventures a tentative glance over the shoulder a wee bit back in time. The period is also one of growing fascination with psychoanalysis.
Sophie speaks to the narrator, twenty two year old Stingo , summing up the superficial sadness of the smug students while lolling on the Coney Island beach. In doing so she uses a wonderful expression, so  appropriate even sixty four years later in analysing of the legions of online FaceBook slacktivists.
“Unearned Unhappiness,” she says.
And through the magic of Styron’s storytelling, we are convinced that she knows what she is talking about. 

Chris Henderson is a fictitious character who appears in Arunabha Sengupta's The Best Seller.  He is an aspiring author and lives in Pasadena, California

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