In a PBS Blank on Blank interview from 1958, Aldous Huxley speaks about a future world where "impersonal forces....are pushing in the direction of less and less freedom." Among these forces he counts overpopulation, mind-controlling drugs, propaganda, and, most pertinent to this blog, technology.
"All technology is in itself moral and neutral. These are just powers which can either be used well or ill..."
Many important technologies were created in the 1950s including microchips, the first computers, modems, and credit cards. The previous decade saw the Atomic Bomb. Many viewed technology as the new frontier, the means by which we could level the playing field and make the American Dream attainable for all.
According to Huxley, there is just one issue with this line of thought: human intention.
Huxley postulates that humans use technology to acquire power. When he gave this interview, TV had just entered the picture. Huxley saw TV as the best means for disseminating propaganda. Indeed, history has shown his assertion to be correct. It would be incredibly interesting to hear Huxley's take on Social Media. While most of what is shared on Social Media is not technically propaganda, it certainly represents a particular person's opinion of current events, life, and the world in general. Thus, it is quite easy to use Social Media to influence others.
A perfect example of Social Media's ability to be used for propaganda occurred when, according to a May 13, 2014 article published on the website truthout, the Syrian Electronic Army used Social Media to make "their way from message board to message board spreading a pro-Bashar message. They insisted the rebels were terrorists, that this was opposed by most of the Syrian people. That they appreciated Bashar al Assad’s policies on religion and ethnicity." Given that al Assad has killed anywhere from 300,000 to 470,000 of his own citizens, it is safe to say that most of them do not appreciate "Bashar al Assad’s policies on religion and ethnicity."
I found this particular episode of Blank on Blank fascinating. Using Jason Ohler’s Digital Storytelling Assessment Traits, I decided to review this story using the following criteria: Story, Content Understanding, and Presentation and Performance.
This was a pretty easy category for the story's creators (David Gerlach, Patrick Smith, Amy Drozdowska, and Jennifer Yoo) to score high marks in. Huxley's take on the future world is, quite frankly, astonishing in its prescience. In fact, it would not surprise me if groups such as Anonymous had adopted them as central tenets of their platform. Huxley is quite obviously brilliant and his interview is riveting. The story's creators use animation to portray Huxley's view of the future as being a world ruled by megalomaniacal dictators.
Based on the animation choices made, it is obvious that the story's creators understand the content that Huxley is disseminating. Images such as the one that I chose to use above convey the nightmarish, totalitarian world that he envisioned. For some, Huxley's views may border on paranoia. However, in light of the current presidential election race, they seem more and more accurate. The story's creators seem to understand this and employ their animation to highlight it.
Presentation and Performance
The animation used in the story is quite arresting. The images are jarring and drawn in an anime fashion. I found this choice of style to be perfectly suited for Huxley's vision. At times, it seems like we are living in a comic-book world where opinions, facts, and, increasingly, lies, reside on society's peripheral edges. As a society, we seem to be fleeing the middle. This story's images perfectly illustrates this.
This was one of my favorite digital stories to critique. If you choose to view it, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.
Comments? Questions? Concerns? Irrelevant asides? Please feel free to leave them below.
I am a Special Education teacher currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Information & Learning Technologies (Option: K-12) at CU Denver. I work at Boulder High School in Boulder, CO. Here you will find my thoughts on education.