I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts. George Orwell

television surrounded by books
Though he was a legendary writer, he was perhaps never wiser than his remark in a New York Herald Tribune essay where George Orwell wrote “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can't stop eating peanuts.” The line has been provoking and useful for more than half a century and other authors have opined on the ever increasing we have to entertainment.

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George Orwell did indeed write the quote in question in an essay he penned for the New York Herald Tribune on October 12th, 1956. Note the New York Herald Tribune is no longer in publication having gone out of publication in 1966 (ending a 42-year run), but archives of the paper can be found at your local library.

First, the full quote as it was written by the author:

I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.

George Orwell in New York Herald Tribune 12 October 1956

Who Was George Orwell?

George Orwell (1903-1950), which is actually a pen name, his birth name was Eric Authur Blair, was an English writer that most students probably remember as the author of either Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm (both of which are frequently required reading in the United States).

Additionally, Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia which was arguably the best book about the Spanish Civil war (in which he volunteered to fight in), and was a columnist to pay the bills. None of Orwell’s books were major bestsellers during his life and it was only posthumously that he became a household name outside of the major city centers that circulated his essays. As Orwell evolved through his adult years, he became to see communism (as depicted satirically in Animal Farm and in reality in Homage to Catalonia) as just another form of fascism.

What Did Orwell Mean?

Another quote that is fairly self-explanatory, albeit prescient for its time given that TVs were brand new in society, was how we find ourselves increasingly addicted to entertainment even when we don’t necessarily like the entertainment we’re watching. It’s an activity we do impulsively without ever really asking ourselves why we do it. Orwell was not alone in this observation and many, including the author of this article, will immediately point to author David Foster Wallace who famously warned about the dangers of television.

David Foster Wallace, the author of Infinite Jest (a book about a piece of entertainment so good you can’t do anything else but consume it), famously couldn’t have a television in his own home because he was afraid he would watch it. This was depicted famously in the 2015 movie The End of The Tour, where Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky discovers David Foster Wallace has spent the entire evening watching television in his hotel room while on tour.
However both David Foster Wallace and George Orwell predate the advent of the smartphone for which our addictions to it have been increasingly well documented (more on that in a moment). To give context to how prescient Orwell’s quote was, note that it wasn’t until 1955 that half of all U.S. homes had Televisions. This quote by the now-legendary author came in 1956.

Are We Addicted to Technology?

Publishing in the Journal of Computers in Human Behavior, authors Sapacz, Rockman, and Clark attempt to tackle the question that’s found an increasing home in the psychological literature: Are we addicted to our cell phones?

It’s important not to overstate a behavioral finding such as this, especially in any one study, however, the authors were able to confidently note that “social anxiety and addiction-proneness are significant predictors of frequent cell phone use.” In other words, people who have either social anxiety (a type of disorder that causes extreme fear in social settings) or are addiction-prone, frequently turn to their phones. Something was frequently done by those with a recognized addiction (such as alcohol use). Though minimal, this does seem to support the author’s conclusions that frequent cell phone use is the next major behavioral addiction facing society.

Updates To This Quote

An enterprising user almost immediately notified us of missing information in the context of this quote. The substance of the misunderstanding, which we were able to verify, was that Orwell did indeed hate fascism but because it gave socialism a bad name. The anonymous user gave a source, which we were able to verify. Orwell writes in an essay titled “Why I Write” the following:

“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.”

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