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How To Escape the Media Prison

Are We Too Proud to Free Ourselves?

Almost half a century later, Peter Finch’s “I’m mad as hell” speech from 1976’s Network still stirs the blood. But can we admit it’s a little outdated? The anger that Finch’s Howard Beale urges us to wield against the media has been coopted: getting us mad is now part of the business plan. We can find a more pertinent diagnosis of our current situation in a movie released just five years after Sidney Lumet’s beloved classic: My Dinner with Andre.

In a remarkable clip recently making the rounds on Twitter, Andre Gregory (playing a liberal, intellectual, New York City theatre director indistinguishable from himself) lays out an conspiracy theory worthy of Alex Jones. The media monoculture, he says, relentlessly and deliberately turns us into “robots,” the end goal of which is to lock us in a prison of our own making: “the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing they’ve built…they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made or to even see it as a prison.”

The insidious demands the digital world makes on our attention are well known. Gregory helps us see what makes it so hard for us to deny that attention: our pride. We like being right, we like making our enemies “mad online.” Until we can give those shallow pleasures up for truly meaningful victories, we’ll stay right where they want us — yelling at each other from our cells.


Anyone can cut down on the information they consume, but for most of us going completely off the grid is not an option. If you have to have wireless service, why not get it from a provider who shares your conviction that the most important things in life happen when you put your phone down?

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The risks of tying your online presence to Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter are well documented. But what if we told you there was a social network offering “decentralized identity, free and open protocols…minimal censorship or true deplatforming risk, interoperability and programmability, [and] a rich and enormous ecosystem” — and that you likely already belong to it?

We’re talking about email. It’s more useful and powerful than you might think, and is where true digital sovereignty begins. Whether you want to free yourself from Google dependence with your own domain, or explore more esoteric digital prepper skills, Return‘s Chris Rudzki has the step-by-step instructions you need.


I’m not normally in the habit of recommending contemporary Hollywood product, but in the case of the new horror movie M3gan I’m willing to make an exception. It’s short, mean, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. And it offers a pleasingly blunt anti-tech message that the whole family can enjoy (it’s PG-13) — especially screen-addicted teens (and the equally screen-addicted parents who enable them). M3gan (the stylish, girlbossy spawn of an iPad and the Terminator) is the icon we need in 2023. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.


One of the problems with the relentless stream of information in which we all swim is a lack of perspective. As historian Paul Johnson put it in his 1983 book Modern Times, “The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false. ”

Johnson, a prolific and witty writer who died last week at 94, made a career of puncturing the kind of arrogance that is all too common among the digital mandarins who seek to rule us. Although his books cover a wide range of subjects (including ancient Egypt, Winston Churchill, and epic histories of Judaism, Christianity, and America), they share a mistrust of “progress” that is more relevant than ever.

Image: Mark Gerson/National Portrait Gallery, London