I’d Rather Go To the Feelies

A few weeks ago I briefly mentioned how I once went through an 1984 phase during which time I was so obsessed with the novel that everything I witnessed was somehow connected to an Orwellian conspiracy. Even today I can’t help but see things like the Patriot Act or the TSA’s giddiness at seeing us naked via x-ray and think, Big Brother’s a-coming. Usually, when 1984 is brought up, one can’t help but also discuss Brave New World. These two novels often go hand in hand since they both present dystopian futures that, though may not happen explicitly, represent what could be if we allow ourselves to be taken in with fear or pleasure or both.

Perhaps you’ve seen this or this infographic comparing the two worlds created by Orwell and Huxley that discusses the question: Who was right? Do we live in the world of Big Brother or do we live in a world of social distraction? While I think eventually we’re headed toward a combination of them both, that’s an argument for another day, because as it stands now, I think Huxley has a bit of an edge. What really gets me is what Neil Postman wrote:

Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”.

And distractions are what I’m good at. (I don’t think it’s just me. Plenty of us humans love a good distraction, but for the sake of not making a generalization, I’ll keep the focus on myself.) I mean, how I write is best described as a sort of dance between actually writing, and wondering off into the realms of cyberspace. I don’t need to check my Facebook, I just did a few minutes ago. No, there isn’t anything new on reddit because I just spent an hour scrolling and looking at recycled memes and artwork on pizza boxes. Hell, I even check out the wasteland that is Google+ from time to time because, you know, procrastination.

I often wonder how much more work I’d get done if I didn’t have these time wasters built in to my routine. And a routine is exactly what it is. I’ll often watch my word count and when I get to 500 or 1000 words, I tell myself, Okay, you’ve earned a mental breather. Other times I’ll come to the end of a paragraph or sentence and think, Time for it to stew and see what’s cooking subconsciously. It’s a routine that I started probably in high school, but I remember most vividly in college. Sure, I knew about the paper for weeks, but suddenly it’s due tomorrow and it’s 10 PM and I’m putting on a pot of coffee. But I don’t know that I’d suddenly become a productive behemoth bulldozing its way through page after page if I bunkered down and shut down the interwebs. I’d probably find something else to distract me, like making quesadillas with Kraft singles or deciding that it was an excellent time to try out the new hairstyle I’d had my mind on for a while.

Surprisingly enough, I’ve written this whole article from start to finish without navigating away from it. Is that ironic? It feels ironic, but who understands irony? (Alanis Morissette certainly doesn’t.) It’s not been too much of a struggle, but there have been times (such as right now) that I’ve wanted to give my mind a break because I’d just spent something like a whole whopping minute trying to figure out what to write in the next sentence. One of the things I’ve just now begun to notice is if I take away the allowance of distraction, then I have only a blinking cursor on the screen, which implores me to do something with it. It’s like I’m its Big Brother, watching through a computer screen, and it’s helping me stave off my desire to play a round or two of centrifugal bumblepuppy.


Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.

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