We will begin by citing a letter written by author Dennis Wheatley, which was buried on his estate with the intent that it be discovered and found useful long after his death. It provides insight into the impact of technology on public opinion and the way the arrival of the machine prepared the way for an entirely new mental climate:
When I was born electricity had been discovered but not yet adapted to practical every-day usage. London had no electric light or telephone system. Wireless, radio recording, broadcasting and gramophones were still unknown, and the petrol engine was still in its infancy. There were no motorcars; on the streets all vehicles were still horse-drawn, and for travelling further afield, the steam train as yet without corridor coaches, was the only means of transport. Liners and warships were generally steam propelled but a great part of the world’s sea-borne commerce was still carried in sailing ships; and the idea of travelling by air was as remote and unreal with us as it was with the Romans.
The electric age, having its infancy while I was a schoolboy, reaching maturity during the First World War, and becoming a dominant factor in all our lives from then on, has revolutionised thought wherever it has penetrated.
In the early years of the century the vast majority of the people of Europe and the United States – and even more so those of the less progressive areas of the world – formed their opinions from personal contact with their fellows. The more advanced among them were neither lacking in intelligence or political consciousness, but their attitude towards their rulers was governed in the main by (1) any new laws which affected their personal well-being and (2) the discussion of events at the centres of government – declarations of war, treaties of alliance, court scandals, royal marriages etc. these were often belatedly reported but formed the staple talk wherever men were gathered together; in the towns, in clubs and taverns, in the country, in public halls and inns. Thus, in those days, the ‘voice of the people’ was in fact the consensus of opinion arrived at after a vast number of free debates had taken place at every level of society and in all parts of the country, concerned.
This ‘voice’ was rarely raised; but when it was, rulers had good cause to tremble, and almost invariably, the result was a cessation of repression or a change of government; as the ‘voice’ was usually pregnant with both justice and commonsense.
But the ‘voice’ was stilled by the coming of the electro-machine age, as the new inventions enabled the professional politicians of all parties to get into direct touch with every community, however remote. First came the electric press, enabling a million or more copies of a newspaper to be run off in a single night – and enormously improved arrangements for distribution. Then came the wireless telegraph – which swiftly developed into radio, with a five times a day news service which, by means of a cheap receiving set, could be picked up in every home. And these were followed by the cinematograph which soon became one of the most insidious weapons for political propaganda.
The result was that instead of forming their opinions by quiet thought and reasoned discussion, the bulk of the people took them ready made (from so called ‘informed’ sources) and, in consequence, in the short space of the first two decades of the 20th century an almost unbelievable change took place in the mental attitude of the masses all over the world. The immense speeding up of means of communication brought the national and international picture so swiftly before them that it filled their thoughts to the exclusion of local conditions and the well-being of their own communities; political ideologies and abstract theories of government usurped in their minds the place which had previously been occupied by the selective prosperity of local industries and the prospects of crops. Worst of all, the masses came under the immediate influence of the political demagogues who labelled themselves as the ‘representatives of the people’, who held that ‘all men being equal’ all power should be vested in the majority rather than in the intelligent minority, as had been the case in the past.
Hopefully this text serves as an initial clarification of this section’s title, which refers to ‘propaganda’, and situates it somewhat as a sub-topic of the study of technology and its influence on society. Propaganda is, in this sense, one of the effects of the technological overthrow of traditional modes of thought, and in a sense it is the new mode of thought, or at least provides the conditions in which thought now takes place. It is our purpose here to dissect the phenomenon and in its various aspects.
Propaganda is one of those caricatured subjects, much like monarchy, that is difficult to talk about today because everyone who hears the term thinks they know what it signifies, while in fact they are acquainted only with a parody of the concept. This confusion is, ironically, often a direct result of propaganda. What I mean is that, while I can’t say for sure if the insane know they’re insane, I can say that the propagandized do not usually know they are propagandized.
Again, comparing discussions about propaganda to those about monarchy, it is impossible to speak of these concepts to American audiences because their shallow preconceptions have been so thoroughly reinforced, not by study or by experience, but by the pressure of exaggeration and self-congratulatory myth. At this point, any explanation at variance with their expectations is rejected out of hand as counter to “common sense.” Just as all Americans believe that every King is necessarily a tyrant, so also is propaganda a thing of the past, discarded because impotent against an enlightened and informed populace.
This is why the term, if it is used at all, is applied to primitive and obvious attempts to further political positions. When we hear “propaganda,” we think of cartoons picturing Uncle Sam spanking Hitler, or something of that sort. We see such devices as so blatant and superficial that to call an effort “propaganda” is to classify it as something so apparent that no reasonable adult would take it seriously.
To make matters worse, the term also brings to mind Hollywood representations of “brain washing” and Manchurian Candidate-style conspiracy plots. All of this mocking confusion undermines a proper discussion of propaganda from the start. Any warnings or claims about the dangers association with it sound to the modern ear like simple-mindedness or paranoia. I hope in what follows to illustrate clearly that the assumption that modern man is exempt from propaganda technique is a very dangerous form of ignorance.
 Dennis Wheatley, A Letter to Posterity.