Thursday, March 09, 2006

Orwell vs. Huxley: FIGHT!

Actually, I just came across this quote from the forward to Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death, talking about media effects [the full forward is online here]:

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy...

The quote was posted to the Serious Games mailing list in response to a solicitation for citations of research against using games to teach. I thought it was an interesting counterpoint to my general optimism towards the educational power of games. Of course, the linchpin of Postman's point is the idea that media technologies (TV, videogames, etc) undermine our ability to think critically. I happen to believe that videogames (at least, the better ones) engage our critical thinking skills, giving them a much needed workout.