Journal Of Applied Misanthropology

Freedom's Glow

One of the images most used by writers of dystopian fiction is the world of screens -- from Orwell's 1984 to "Max Headroom" to Farenheit 451 to Gilliam's "Brazil", the classic image of oppression and tyranny in the latter half of the 20th century has been endless walls of glaring video monitors -- omnipresent, omnipotent, alternatively blaring forth a cacaphony of mind-numbing drek or silently observing, the unblinking, cyclopean eye staring out, watching all. (It is worth noting that not only those who use print for a living fear the tube -- those whose own fortunes are won by it, fear it as well, perhaps more so.)

So it is interesting that, today, I went to our local library, and found a vision easily out of Bradbury's nightmares -- rows and rows of monitors, casting their flickering glow on the patrons, who stared back at them, lost in the visions only they could see (unless, of course, you were rude and peeked over their shoulders).

Was this, then, the culmination of the visions of the dystopians? Were books to be left mouldering in dust, while the library became yet another place where the masses went to be lulled into a hypnotic state of submissive depression?(Set prose-color="purple")

Of course not.

Because these were not the monitors of televisions, but of computers. The old visions were wrong. The world of screens has been transformed. The glow of the tubes is not the searchlight of some ubergestapo, pinioning the dissident or blinding the visionary -- it is now the glow of an open door, a portal into a vaster world. The screens are no longer windows looking out, one-way mirrors behind which lurk secret watchers. They are doorways to the future, and any one who wishes to may enter therein as an equal.

No one foresaw this, at least, no one listened to in his time. Orwell, Bradbury, Huxley were all men of imagination, but none saw liberation rather than oppression in the pulsating light. Gibson knew the screens would be computers, but he still saw no hope in them, his vision seeing ahead a century but not a decade.

The day is coming, soon now, when some student, confronted with Orwell's vision for the first time, will ask, in all innocence and sincerity, why, if Winston Smith didn't like what Big Brother had to say, didn't he just click to a different site, or, better yet, post a response? The age is coming when the idea of information being a one-way stream will be as oddly antique as the idea of riding a horse to work or being unable to get fresh vegetables in the wintertime. The new light of freedom is not the torch of a verrigrated statue in a harbor, but 72mhz cycle glow of the monitors that were supposed to have brought tyranny.

(Yes, yes, I know, upcoming flat screen technology ruins all my lovely imagery, but give me a break, it's a smegging metaphor, OK? Sheesh. Bloody literalists.)

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