In October 1961 – Kurt Vonnegut penned an impactful and potently short story – ‘Harrison Bergeron’, depicting a bizarre and tragic dystopian world of socially enforced equality.
Harrison, as well as his parents and all other citizens are forced by the ‘Handicapper General’ to wear apparatuses designed to dampen natural physical and mental abilities down to a government prescribed average. In addition to weighted clothing and masks for the handsome, many are forced to wear a ‘mental handicap radio’ that delivers ear-splitting explosions of noise every 20 seconds to disrupt deep thought and reduce a scattered intellect down to the common average.
Lying in bed at night a few days ago I realized to my horror I am, nearly 80% of my leisure time, fitted with a ‘mental handicap radio’. It’s called Youtube.
When I am alone, I invariably and habitually pop on some internet video channel. Usually something with a lot of talking and not a lot of gravitas. Something comfortingly inane. Voices in the distance. This serves a purpose (comfort and connection to the outside world) but only to a point. Very quickly, I find myself in a mildly agitated and listless state of novelty thirst, with little motivation to do anything outside looking at new, quickly digestible media every 1.8 seconds.
When I am alone in silence, doing chores or reading, thoughts crop up. Ideas, slow plans, followthroughs. I think of interesting ways to improve my life and the lives of those around me (for real). I reflect on what I want in life, who I need to be to get those things. I ruminate, sometimes, but I also create, modify, perfect. And Dream.
But dreamers to not fall asleep to Youtube.
I have literally experienced micro-thought scenarios where I start to think about something useful, and am immediately distracted by some internet personality cracking a joke or laughing. Or referencing some childish banality that I, too, experienced in my first 15 years of life…
One passage has Harrison’s Father, George, caress the 47 pound bag of birdshot clamped around his neck to reduce his strength and retort: ‘I don’t notice it anymore. It’s just a part of me’. I, literally, have been surprised at the clear, penetrating quality of my thinking when I am not on the internet, wondering just what is ‘wrong’.
My work is cut out for me, and like the perennial conflict between the dystopian worlds of Orwell and Huxley, it continues to be a Brave New World. This condition is not imposed through terrifying government crackdowns, and it is not through fear of punishment I am controlled but hypnosis of comfort. I have chosen my shackles gleefully. Without being dramatic, I am perpetually wearing a ‘distraction helmet’ because it’s a bit more comfortable (at least in the short term) than having to wrestle with my destiny on this planet.