Aldous Huxley wrote a treatise in 1958 that explicated how his dystopian vision in Brave New World was coming true. If Huxley felt like that then, imagine what he would say about the world now. The hyper-mediation of computer technology has led to a digitized existence; iPads and iPhones have taken over communication, resulting in much less face-to-face interaction. In most cases, digital media is a huge blessing, as exemplified by educational websites like Shmoop, but there are dangers of where it could lead. While the digital revolution has not lead to the extreme mechanization of society that Huxley envisioned, it certainly raises fears of artificial intelligence and impersonal interaction. Huxley’s fictional world in which human beings are genetically manufactured and soma users, a drug that transports them to a trippy universe removed from reality, could easily be compared to post-millennium existence, in which cyborgs and virtual reality have infiltrated society (think of the more and more real possibility of The Matrix).
In Huxley’s world and perhaps in our own, the antidote is Shakespeare. Looking to classic literature that explores the depths of human nature certainly counteracts technology overload. So next time you want to turn on an episode of Bachelor Pad, try picking up Romeo and Juliet. While both don’t exactly depict reality, since neither scheming singles in a far-from-reality TV show, nor star-crossed lovers who fall in love at first sight are exactly viable scenarios, at least the latter poetically explores the essence of human nature.
That is precisely what is missing in the imagined dystopia in Brave New World. Genetic engineering and the mechanization of mass production have eliminated individuality and emotion. Naming his dystopian society the World State, Huxley intuitively prophesized globalization, which has been rapidly amplified by the World Wide Web. The World State is maintained by the application of science and math to social control. In other words, don’t underestimate the importance of AP Calculus. Applied Calculus is the basis of mechanics. For example, the Physics equation Force = Mass x Acceleration is rooted in Calculus. In addition, it is used in computer technology: digital imagery is composed of discrete values, usually integers, which are stored as a bitmap (pixel grids), making the image directly subject to computational manipulation. Images are no longer just captured, but also controlled. The next time that you think Calculus has no application to the real world, think again. A group of mad scientists, as demonstrated in Brave New World, could certainly use it to take over the world. Huxley is not necessarily condemning the advancement of science and technology, but warning against its negative power when used towards extinguishing humanity in the name of efficiency and control.
Much like Tobey Maguire convinces the citizens of Pleasantville in the film of the same name that real emotions are worth the pain, John, an outsider from the Reservation, introduces Shakespeare to the mind-controlled citizens in the World State. Helmholtz, a citizen who desires to regain his individuality, is particularly mesmerized by the beautiful lyricism of the plays, yet since he has been under the mind control of the World State his whole life, has difficulty understand their meaning. When John introduces him to Romeo and Juliet, he can’t wrap his head around why Juliet would not just tell her family outright about her affair with Romeo. In a society with complete sexual freedom and no emotions, Helmholtz guffaws at the complexity of family rivalry and forbidden love. In the world he knows, intense passions such as these do not exist. Unfortunately John’s passion is too intense for the apathetic “brave new world,” and just as Juliet, he meets a mortal end. However, he would rather be dead than a much worse fate: to live a flatlining existence.
If you happen to be in a dark room all day playing too much World of Warcraft, and look a little pale and feel slightly dead inside, it would be helpful to review Romeo and Juliet quotes to renew your vitality. Juliet eloquently asserts, “Conceit, more rich in matter than in words, brags of his substance, not of ornament: they are but beggars that can count their worth; But my true love is grown to such excess I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth” (2.6.2). In other words, love and ornament, aka passion and art, are much more valuable than conceit and wealth. In relation to Brave New World, just as the World State is obsessed with the output and consumption of products, meaning that the individual is subservient to the conceit of the state, Juliet is victim of her family’s conceit. The Montagues and Capulets are so obsessed with the reputations of their families, that they too have forgotten about what really matters: love, family, and community. Maybe Juliet’s passionate words will inspire you to approach your crush at school. Wealth, reputation, nor virtual reality can substitute for the spine tingling, heart stopping ecstasy of love.