|I had an Orwellian nightmare. I dreamed that I had traveled into the
future and was assessing my new situation by reading the New York Times. The
front-page headline read "America Online Agrees to Buy Time Warner for $165 Billion;
Media Deal Is Richest Merger." The largest merger in history had just happened,
leaving 90% of all media—books, TV, movies, magazines, newspapers, and the
Internet—dominated by just four giant players. Four. I recalled that in 1983, there were
fifty. The news seemed so improbable that I thought, just for a moment, that I might be
Independent perspectives were being assimilated by the profit-powered corporate Borg.
Resistance was futile. Perhaps, I thought, this shocking dynamic explains why, in this bizarre futurescape, the media has been dumbed down to infotainment. Why journalists pander to popular ignorance. Why serious critiques of religion, pseudoscience, and irrationality are taboo. Why rational argument and serious debate on bed-rock issues of politics and society were practically nonexistent.
What could this mean for a society whose success had depended on the cacophony of alternative views and dissenting opinions? How could the Fourth Estate protest when it had been bought by the Fifth Estate—greedy corporate behemoths whose interests are not served by diversity? What was happening—or had already happened—to democracy?
I saw that even the alleged democratic diversity of the Internet was a sham. There were many voices, but now only a handful of loud ones. A billion little declarations buzzed like flies, signifying nothing much. Even the Borg ignored the relentless droning.
But there was an even larger terror in my dream: Almost no one noticed the assimilation. Almost no one cared that hundreds of independent takes on the world had been squeezed into four big slots. Few dared even to inquire whether there was any real danger. The government didn't. The people didn't. And—least surprising of all—the media didn't. The stakes were high, but why didn't political leaders at least investigate whether there was anything to worry about?
The irony sank in. At a time when technology could immeasurably enhance diversity, debate, and democracy, there seemed to be nothing much left to enhance.
Then another unsettling report in the Times caught my eye. A major TV news organization (owned by the Borg) had been caught inserting fake images into actual news footage. The technology to manufacture false worlds had been misused by the nominal guardians of reality.
The horror was complete. I saw a future of unrestrained corporate control of real-world information coupled with technology that could render the notion of the "real world" obsolete. Humankind was on the verge of entering The Truman Show, where life is just a lavish, carefully manipulated production. No one—except the Borg—makes any real choices, and personhood is for entertainment purposes only.
I awoke in a cold sweat. When I came to my senses, I saw that I wasn't really in the Truman Show. I was home in bed, in the real world. The year was 2000, at the dawning of a new millenium, way past 1984.
Lewis Vaughn is the Editor of Free Inquiry.