Even assuming that the technical details of the systems that make these steps toward enslavement possible could be explained, it's the mindset of people in the current era that would be unfathomable to this time traveler from the 1950s.
Can you imagine trying to explain the year 2015 to someone from the 1950s? "So let me get this straight: this magic box you carry around in your pocket--" "It's called an iPhone."
"--this magic box creates a list of every place you've been?"
"And what time you went there and how long you were there for. Yes."
"And this information is automatically sent to a corporation in California?"
"Aren't you afraid of what the corporation will do with that information? What if they turned it all over to the government?"
"Oh, there's no worry about that."
"Oh good. Why not?"
"Because the government already has access to it any time they want."
"But this is your private information! It's unthinkable that you could be so blase about it!"
"Why not? I checked in at the restaurant I went to for lunch on foursquare, updated my facebook status when I went to the doctor this afternoon and tweeted a selfie of me and my friend at the game in the evening."
"I have no idea what any of that means."
"It means I'm not concerned about my privacy."
"Oh, I see. The commies have won."
"The reds. The Ruskies. Clearly the Soviets have taken over in the year 2055--"
"--and you've all lost your minds. Brainwashed by those crafty pinkos."
"Oh, the Soviet Union? I think I learned about that in history class. No, we're the land of the free."
"In what sense, exactly?"
And that would just be the start. How exactly would you even begin to explain the standardization of identity cards and passports to fall in line with international protocols for biometric data? Or the extrajudicial presidential kill list that "allows" the President of the US to kill anyone he wants anywhere in the world at any time? Or the construction of an international treaty for sharing your personal banking details amongst the OECD nations without your knowledge or consent? Or the creation of secret DNA databases from the blood samples collected from your newborn at birth, DNA databases that private companies claim to own and governments claim the right to administer? Or any of the million other infringements on basic personal liberties that would have been taken so much for granted 50 years ago that no one would have even thought to have articulated them, let alone protected them?
The question is not just one of technology. Even assuming that the technical details of the systems that make these steps toward enslavement possible could be explained, it's the mindset of people in the current era that would be unfathomable to this time traveler from the 1950s.
"Oh, this is all very reminiscent of the writings of that British chap, Orwell. Just died recently, I hear, but did you read his final work? 1994?"
"Yes, quite chilling."
"I guess so. A bit cliched, don't you think? Besides, Huxley was closer to the mark."
Although our 1950s interlocutor would be familiar with Aldous Huxley's 1932 opus, Brave New World, it was Huxley's speech at Berkeley in 1962, ambitiously entitled "The Ultimate Revolution" that more clearly pulled back the curtain on the mechanisms for the mental enslavement of the people.
According to Huxley, Orwell's nightmare vision of the tyranically controlled 1984 society was a reflection of the post-war period "at the time when the Stalinist terror regime was still in full swing and just after the collapse of the Hitlerian terror regime." As a result, Orwell's vision of the future "was a projection into the future of a society where control was exercised wholly by terrorism and violent attacks upon the mind-body of individuals."
Huxley's "Brave New World" vision, however, offered an alternative take on societal control, one founded not on violence and fear, but manipulation and pleasure:
"That if you can get people to consent to the state of affairs in which they’re living--the state of servitude, the state of being, having their differences ironed out, and being made amenable to mass production methods on the social level--if you can do this, then you have, you are likely to have a much more stable and lasting society. A much more easily controllable society than you would if you were relying wholly on clubs and firing squads and concentration camps."
American media critic Neil Postman touched on this contrast in his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death where he explained how the nature of television news reporting (contextless, frantic, constantly shifting in focus) makes it so that even the most brazen violations of personal liberty and public law elicit little more than a raised eyebrow from the public:
"For all his perspicacity, George Owell would have been stymied by this situation; there is nothing 'Orwellian' about it. The President does not have the press under his thumb. The New York Times and The Washington Post are not Pravda; the Associated Press is not Tass. And there is no Newspeak here. Lies have not been defined as truth nor truth as lies. All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference. Which is why Aldous Huxley would not in the least be surprised by the story. Indeed, he prophesied its coming. He believed that it is far more likely that the Western democracies will dance and dream themselves into oblivion that march into it, single file and manacled. Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions. Although Huxley did not specify that television would be our main line to the drug, he would have no difficulty accepting Robert MacNeil’s observation that 'Television is the soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.' Big Brother turns out to be Howdy Doody."
"I knew it! Television is the culprit! A tool of communist brainwashing all along, and here we are accepting it into our living rooms to rot the minds of our children!"
"Television? That's so 20th century. Now we have Netflix. And Drudge. And The Pirate Bay. We can check our Twitter feed on the toilet while listening to a podcast. We can even download a speech made by Aldous Huxley in 1962 nearly instantaneously and completely for free...but what kind of nerd wants to waste their time on that? I hear the new Taylor Swift song just got leaked on the net."
But this transformation is not simply effected through distraction. There are other elements of psychological manipulation at work. In his 1962 speech Huxley discusses how the work of Pavlov was picked up on and refined by the psychologists and behaviorists of Huxley's own day. From Pavlov's research arise a number of insights into the tools of manipulation.
The power of suggestion can be used to persuade people that something is good or right or effective or virtuous even if it isn't; the placebo effect is very real.
The power of incrementalism can get us to accept sweeping transformations of society by breaking that process down into small, manageable steps. The strategem of the Fabian Socialists was a sound one.
The power of social pressure can get people to conform to even the most uncomfortable or unnatural conditions. If your friends are all saying or doing it, then it must be good (even if most of your "friends" are the TV characters you watch every night).
And yes, the power of psycho-pharmaceuticals, tv screen flicker rates, brain wave technology and the like can be used to fill in the gaps that the other tools of manipulation leave open. In the end you're left with a society that can hate Al Qaeda one year and love it the next, jeer the societal control exhibited in North Korea and love the societal control exhibited in the west, denounce Chinese moves toward tracking and controlling their citizens' online and offline activities but accept their own countries' moves toward the same thing, etc.
Perhaps even more amazingly, people don't even notice these contradictions. They're too busy enjoying the latest bells and whistles on their fondleslabs to be very aware of the world around them. And if you ask them about this, they look at you as if you're a social leper, like an earnest young man trying to convince a frat party of the benefits of teetotaling.
"So wait, a large percentage of the population thinks a military coup would be a good thing?"
"And you're all becoming used to the idea of giving up your fingerprints like a common criminal in order to cross borders or even vote in elections?"
"And you would rather have your Congressmen randomly selected from the phone book than trust the crooks you voted into office?"
"And you're all perfectly happy with this?"
"Why aren't you outraged? Why aren't you throwing these damn magic boxes into the garbage? Why aren't you getting out into the sunshine and interacting with your fellow human beings anymore?"
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Sorry, what was that? I was just texting my friend about this great YouTube video I just saw."
"I give up. I want to go back to the 50s."