Neil Postman wrote the cautionary book "Amusing Ourselves to Death," in which he argued that our obsession with entertainment was driving us towards distraction and superficiality. This book was written in 1985, but feels even more relevant in 2017. We're surrounded by social media, streaming services, and gaming apps. Billions of dollars are spent trying to exploit our base desires for pleasure.
Postman described the distinction between George Orwell and Aldous Huxley's vision of the future:
"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture...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." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us."
Has our inclination for pleasure gone too far?
Maybe it's just a matter of moderation. What's the problem with indulging in the occasional game or Netflix series? After a stressful day or busy week, it's nice to relax and enjoy some simple entertainment.
And just because something is entertaining, doesn't mean it's inherently not worthwhile. A well-made show or documentary could broaden our perspectives.
But we should be wary about companies taking advantage of our desire for entertainment. Major corporations are investing massive amounts of money into the production of games, shows, and movies. Maybe some of these are personally enriching, but many of them are likely simple and mindless.
Businesses like Facebook, Netflix and Amazon have huge amounts of user data that they can use to find our weaknesses. They can use this information to produce shows specifically tailored to distract us.
But our capitalistic economy revolves around supply and demand, so maybe consumers just need to demand more enriching entertainment and the companies will deliver.
Let's just not end up how like Father John Misty's song "Total Entertainment Forever," :
"When the historians find us we'll be in our homes
Plugged into our hubs
Skin and bones
A frozen smile on every face
As the stories replay
This must have been a wonderful place"