Analysis: Digital Witnesses in the Brave New World



Exploring Aldous Huxley‘s Brave New World and St. Vincent‘s song Digital Witness.

Brave New World was written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley and is set in London in 2540. Huxley attempts to explore a hugely changed society, that is ultimately more controlled than ever. As opposed to George Orwell‘s outright dystopia in 1984, Huxley’s world is the dystopia in the utopia. Society is the most peaceful it has ever been, and in exchange for that, everything is shared, there are no secrets. The government, rather than punishing you for bad deeds, instead rewards you for what is considered good and civil – drug inducement as a holiday and recreational sex in place of family.

Alone time in Brave New World is considered a huge waste of time; society as an organism is encouraged over a society full of individuals. St. Vincent‘s song Digital Witness explores the similar theme of individualism and behaviour and how this impacts the 21
st century, a place full of lives forever being watched/documented/moderated online. In the music video for Digital Witness, there again is visual emphasis on mankind as an ant colony – “action is synchronized, replicated and repeated but it also subtley explores the problems of this construction with paranoia. In Huxley’s Brave New World Revisited, Huxley makes the case that contemporary society is already trying its best to encourage the team-work, organism-like mentality.
Its basic assumption is that the social whole has greater worth and significance than its individual parts, that inborn biological differences should be sacrificed to cultural uniformity, that the rights of the collectivity take precedence over what the eighteenth century called the Rights of Man.”

However he argues that humans are not a fully social species, and that we are only moderately gregarious, and that this uncomfortable standardisation of humans is likely to give way to mental illness. As Huxley quotes Dr. Erich Fromm:
Our contemporary Western society, in spite of its material, intellectual and political progress, is increasingly less conducive to mental health, and tends to undermine the inner security, happiness, reason and the capacity for love in the individual; it tends to turn him into an automaton who pays for his human failure with increasing mental sickness, and with despair hidden under a frantic drive for work and so-called pleasure.”

The chorus of Digital Witness looks at the irony of an overly connected society. It plays on the social version of
Schrödinger’s cat; if I don’t make a Twitter post in the next hour am I declared dead?

Digital witnesses, what’s the point of even sleeping?
If I can’t show it, if you can’t see me
What’s the point of doing anything?

Both Huxley and St. Vincent play on an ambivalence that surfaces when analysing humanity’s progression. The increased connectivity is creating a void which may have once housed inner peace. What dystopian utopia awaits us?



Further reading, watching and listening

Freeman, J. (2013). Groove Is In The Heart: An Interview With St. Vincent. Available: Last accessed 27th April 2014.

Huxley, A (1932). Brave New World. London: Chatto & Windus.

Huxley, A. (1958). Brave New World Revisited. Available online: Last accessed 27th April 2014.

Orwell, G. (1949). 1984. London: Secker and Warburg.

Schrödinger’s cat. Available: Last accessed 27th April 2014.

St. Vincent. (2014). St. Vincent. (Album). USA: Loma Vista Recordings.

[Helen Brown]




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