More and more, I find myself thinking about Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s memorable short story, “Harrison Bergeron.”
Harrison is gifted both physically and intellectually, but in Vonnegut’s predicted society of 2081, thats a no-no. The government took him away at age 14 for his superior abilities. His father George was also smarter than the average guy, but was handicapped by the government in the name of equality for everyone.
Hear it from Vonnegut:
“(George) had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.”
In Vonnegut’s vision, it’s all due to a series of constitutional amendments that dictated that people be equal in every way. I used to think it was a far-fetched notion. Yet with the current anti-intellectual sentiment of the ruling party with its need for a gullible populace to believe – and get worked up about – alternative facts, maybe it’s not so far out there.
The story takes place in a dystopian future, but in a way, it’s already come true 64 years early.
I’m not talking about the clunky, low-tech distractions in the 1961 short story.
Instead, I think of Harrison when I’m writing away and a pleasant ding or a buzz gives me a Pavlovian rush. True, it’s a far cry from Bergeron’s ear blaster. Most importantly, I choose my tablet. It’s not required by law (yet) that I carry this or the miniature “phone” version. I’ve been advertised, envied and social-mediaed into not being able to live without them. I’m distracted mostly by pleasure, like the promise of a pretty, ego-stroking red dot against a Facebook-blue background. George was distracted by painful noise.
I certainly don’t want to get rid of these electronic Swiss Army knives that help us communicate with the world and remove the old road blocks between artists and their audiences. I’m just not sure I want it to dominate my life and change how my brain works.
I pick up my device to do something. It dings. I respond and am left wondering, ‘What did I come here for?’
Many have drawn parallels between our trails of cookies and George Orwell’s “1984”. Undeniably, we’re more open than ever to having “Big Brother” follow our every move. There’s a full-scale gold rush to data that used to be locked in our brains.
The more sophisticated our communication tools become, the more we grab for them like Badger and Skinny Pete for Mr. White’s blue meth. And the more data bits we toss into the banquet for the corporations and governments to feast on.
And the dishes keep piling up in the sink.