Pleasures: The Rise of Dopamine Culture

Neil Postman was right, we are living in Huxley’s Brave New World and not Orwell’s 1984.

I was given further reminder of this idea while reading two great essays this week. The first was “Pleasures” written by Huxley himself and published in Vanity Fair in 1923. You can read it on the wonderful Hackney Books.

Pleasures by Aldous Huxley

To the interminable democracies of the world a million cinemas bring the same stale balderdash. There have always been fourth-rate writers and dramatists; but their works, in the past, quickly died without getting beyond the boundaries of the city or the country in which they appeared. To-day, the inventions of the scenario-writer go out from Los Angeles across the whole world. Countless audiences soak passively in the tepid bath of nonsense. No mental effort is demanded of them, no participation; they need only sit and keep their eyes open.

This section caught me because it laments the speed with which entertainment was able to move across the world. And this was in 1923! But he doesn’t stop with cinema, this on music will ring true for anyone who has ever found themselves listening to a “Sleep” or “Music to Chill Out to” playlist.

Or if they are a little more up-to-date they adjust their wireless telephone to the right wave-length and listen-in to the fruity contralto at Marconi House, singing “The Gleaner’s Slumber Song.”

And this on the news… two papers a day sounds like “slow journalism” compared to the news feed:

It is possible to go on for years and years, reading two papers every working day and one on Sundays without ever once being called upon to think or to make any other effort than to move the eyes, not very attentively, down the printed column.

And of course sport:

But the vast mass of the community has now come even to sport vicariously, preferring the watching of football to the fatigues and dangers of the actual game.

Which brings me to the second essay, this one by Ted Gioia and published last week.

The State of Culture in 2024

Ted’s essay is a marvellous look at how culture is being replaced with addiction and I encourage you to read it in full. But, and as is the case with most “content” these days, it has been distilled into a neat meme-able graphic.

Huxley was right.

The Rise of Dopamine Culture

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My name is Dan, I'm a product manager and entrepreneur living and working in London. Check out my blog archive or read more about me.