The sheer economic power of modern society is attended by the same human ambiguities. The rational ordering of production makes possible a material level of prosperity beyond anything known by the past. Not only can the material wants of the masses be satisfied to a degree greater than ever before, but technology is fertile enough to generate new wants that it can also satisfy. Automobiles, radio, and now television become actual needs for great numbers of people. All of this makes for an extraordinary externalization of our life in our time. The tempo of living is heightened, but a greed for novelties sets in. The machinery of communication makes possible the almost instantaneous conveying of news from one point on the globe to another. People read three or four editions of a daily paper, hear the news on the radio, or see tomorrow morning’s news on their television screen at night. Journalism has become a great god of the period, and gods have a way of ruthlessly and demonically taking over their servitors. In thus becoming a state of mind-as Kierkgaard prophesized it would do, writing with amazing clairvoyance more than a century ago-journalism enables people to deal with life more and more at second hand. Information usually consists of half-truths, and “knowledgability” becomes a substitute for real knowledge. Moreover, popular journalism has by now extended its operations into what were previously considered strongholds of culture-religion, art, philosophy. Everyman walks around with a pocket digest of culture in his head. The more competent and streamlined journalism becomes, the greater its threat to the public mind-particularly in a country like the United States. It becomes more and more difficult to distinguish the secondhand from the real thing, until most people end by forgetting there is such a distinction. The very success of technique engenders a whole style of life for the period, which subsists purely on externals. What lies behind those externals-the human person, in its uniqueness and its totality-dwindles to a shadow and a ghost.
-Irrational Man, William Barrett