Rants of a Grumpy Old Man: O, Brave New World

Doors of Perception Doors of Perception

I’ve been rereading Aldous Huxley’s classic novel of the same name. His view of a dystopian world where only technology can create happiness certainly rings true in this post-modern day and age.

As I’ve written before: I am somewhat of an anachronism, certainly not up with the times, the demands, and the quirks of our culture. Take for example cell phones. I got mine before texting had become in vogue, thinking that surely a phone for immediate access in case of an emergency was a good idea. I promptly lost it at a movie after a week of ownership. For those of you who are older, you may recall the movie critic Pauline Kael’s wonderful book, I Lost it at the Movies (1965). Yes, it became the end of mine and other’s innocence.

Cell phones, while wonderful, have also heralded the end of verbal, in-person communication. Why not text, since it is efficient, succinct, and to the point? Why, for Heaven’s sake, one can even write in a new language that is constantly revived and renewed, our own form of Esperanto (look it up on the Google feature of your phone if you missed that allusion). Texting gives the texter a sense of anonymity. Isn’t it better to forego speaking to a person, with the off chance that they may be reading something into the emotions in your voice by writing cryptic messages that say all or nothing? I have gotten text messages out of the clear blue saying: “Hey. U OK?” And blue messages that say: “LMFAO  yer take on TEXTO, SEXTO, & G-Holes, CU.” All from authors unknown.

Cell phones, together with the latest in AI tools, have become the bane of teachers’ lives. When I first began teaching, I could assign 4-5 novels per 15 weeks of term. Now, as technology has altered our attention span, I would not be able to assign one, settling more on short stories, preferably a maximum of 4 pages, and only 5 per term. In the “good ole days,” cell phones were forbidden in classrooms. I remember one time enforcing this when I noticed that a student at the back of the class was busily texting in the middle of my lecture. I walked up to him to tell him to turn it off, and he held up a warning finger, saying: “Wait, this is important!” I was never as emboldened, though, as one of my colleagues who would take cell phones away if they were in use and simply throw them out the window.

If you did that today, you would be up on charges of Man 1 or worse.

Another thing is having information at, literally, your fingertips. As a teacher, I would combine fact with fiction, often telling my students outlandish lies or tall tales to perk their interest. No longer. Now, anyone can fact-check you and call you to task. “No, sir,” one of my students once said to me, wielding his cell phone menacingly in front of the whole class, “William Blake did NOT appear to Allen Ginsberg in a vision. It says here that he died in 1827. Which I think was some time ago, but certainly not in the 1950s. So, that would be impossible,” just to make sure I got his point.

And don’t get me started on talking robots. First, there was Alexa, the talking “virtual assistant,” now upgraded to the Amazon Astro. Apparently, you can ask your “assistant” any question, and they will answer. Also, it can call up any kind of music for your listening pleasure. Not so long ago, I was over at some friends’ house having a few drinks. They had this little metal thing that beeped and made R2D2 noises and even went around the apartment like one of those unmanned vacuums. At one point I inadvertently tried it out when I went to the bathroom. As I stood pensively above the toilet bowl, awaiting the torrent that had now become a mere trickle, I started whistling to facilitate the process.  Imagine my surprise when she/it/they started to accompany me in a stirring rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” First off, I was shocked that the robot had followed me into the bathroom. Then, I was even more shocked when it whistled in key, putting my efforts to shame. To further try this out, I said: “Alexa, whistle Leo Kottke’s twelve string guitar version of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Alexa answered in a not entirely unsexy Eastern European drawl: “Did you say Kottke, or was that Cot-KEY? Or, did you say ‘pour me another Wild Turkey’?” Surely, Alexa knew all about the blues.

What next? A “virtual medical assistant”? Can you imagine being spread eagle, your legs wide open, about to undergo a virtual Pap smear by a robot gynecologist? “Hello, I’m Dr. Rye Coozer… at your cervix!”

And furthermore, what is Bluetooth? As a young man, I can remember coming home from a date with blue balls, not having hooked up with anyone, but this?

Also, what’s with this SMS/MMS as an option for sending text messages? One works and the other doesn’t, it seems, in some cases. Why not simplify it and make one called S & M? It would surely be a marquee product, no?

Now that we have rolled into the world of EV-s, there is TESLA, run by major nutjob, Elon Musk, who claims that soon we will all be travelling around in self-drive automobiles. Really? Has he ever been to Montreal and seen our drivers? Also, his X spacecrafts will soon be offering excursion to Mars, apparently. His promo: “The trip will only take 7 years and may cost you your life, but, hey, we serve Mars bars for dessert.”

All of this is taking us where? Some will say to a world of conveniences where we will have more time to improve ourselves. How so? By alienating us from each other, by narrowing our ways to communicate, all for the sake of efficiency? By telling us that this world is not enough in all of its beauty, splendor, mystery, and heartbreak, so much so that we have to find a new planet to inhabit?

Aldous Huxley said it best: “There is one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”

You know, that thing (also known as the soul) we have all but forgotten in our rush toward the future, embraced by the lifelessness of technology.

2 Comments on Rants of a Grumpy Old Man: O, Brave New World

  1. Good one Zsolt. Huxley right on the mark. And who except you could ever envision Kotte and a robot sharing a scene.

  2. Anonymous // March 1, 2024 at 7:49 am //

    Rant, rant before the dating of the light

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