Bernard Harcourt’s Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age (Harvard University Press 2015) is an indictment of our contemporary age of surveillance and exposure — what Harcourt calls “the expository society.” Harcourt passionately deconstructs modern technology-infused society and explains its dark implications with an almost poetic eloquence.
Harcourt begins by critiquing the metaphor of George Orwell’s 1984 to describe the ills of our world today. In my own previous work, I critiqued this metaphor, arguing that Kafka’s The Trial was a more apt metaphor to capture the powerlessness and vulnerability that people experience as government and businesses construct and use “digital dossiers” about their lives. Harcourt critiques Orwell in a different manner, arguing that Orwell’s dystopian vision is inapt because it is too drab and gray:
No, we do not live in a drab Orwellian world. We live in a beautiful, colorful, stimulating, digital world that is online, plugged in, wired, and Wi-Fi enabled. A rich, bright, vibrant world full of passion and jouissance–and by means of which we reveal ourselves and make ourselves virtually transparent to surveillance. In the end, Orwell’s novel is indeed prescient in many ways, but jarringly off on this one key point. (pp. 52-53)
Harcourt’s book reminds me of Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, originally published about 30 years ago — back in 1985. Postman also critiqued Orwell’s metaphor and argued that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a more apt metaphor to capture the problematic effects new media technologies were having on society.