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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

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Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs. In this eloquent, persuasive book, Neil Postman alerts us to the real and present dangers of this state of affairs, and offers compelling suggestions as to how to withstand the media onslaught Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs. In this eloquent, persuasive book, Neil Postman alerts us to the real and present dangers of this state of affairs, and offers compelling suggestions as to how to withstand the media onslaught. Before we hand over politics, education, religion, and journalism to the show business demands of the television age, we must recognize the ways in which the media shape our lives and the ways we can, in turn, shape them to serve out highest goals.

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Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs. In this eloquent, persuasive book, Neil Postman alerts us to the real and present dangers of this state of affairs, and offers compelling suggestions as to how to withstand the media onslaught Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs. In this eloquent, persuasive book, Neil Postman alerts us to the real and present dangers of this state of affairs, and offers compelling suggestions as to how to withstand the media onslaught. Before we hand over politics, education, religion, and journalism to the show business demands of the television age, we must recognize the ways in which the media shape our lives and the ways we can, in turn, shape them to serve out highest goals.

30 review for Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    This really is a book that needs to be read. I’m going to start with the quote that got me to read this book: “We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well kn This really is a book that needs to be read. I’m going to start with the quote that got me to read this book: “We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.” Both of my daughters have had to read Huxley and Orwell in high school. I didn’t read either of them when I was in high school, which now I think about it is very strange. Anyway, both of my daughters have told me that when their teachers asked the class about Huxley’s Brave New World which of the two worlds available in that book they would choose to live in, virtually everyone picked the brave new world with drugs and pneumatic women. I guess that is hardly surprising, except, of course, that Huxley’s point does seem to be that one should at least question a world in which we amuse ourselves to the point of being incapable of thinking. This book could easily have been a manifesto calling on all Americans to unplug their television sets and, in true rock star fashion, throw them out of the window. But that isn’t what is being called for here. Postman’s objective is seemingly much more modest (although it is interesting to note even this modest objective is no where near having been achieved). He wants people to reflect on how the new technologies of media presentation (particularly television) are fundamentally changing what we take to be ‘news’ and what we take to be ‘informed debate’, particularly informed political debate. For example, we may live in an age where a black man can become president, but do you imagine for a minute that an overweight man of any colour could? About a year ago, I guess, I read a book called Fooled by Randomness which advised people to not read newspapers every day for financial information as the daily swings in the stock market were essentially random and therefore meaningless and so the explanations for these swings provided by the newspapers were only more so. This has had me thinking about the value of most of what I read in newspapers now. In fact, I’m finding it increasingly hard to read newspapers. This book is set to make this problem of mine even worse. He gives a fascinating account of the development of news since the telegraph and how the telegraph in particular changed the world. Yes, there are all of the standard points about the telegraph as a boon – it made the world a much smaller place and helped create the global village. But what is really interesting is how the telegraph turned ‘news’ into something that was no longer local or of immediate relevance to the lives of those reading it, but rather into a series of ‘facts’. He talks about people in the United States learning of Queen Adelaide’s whooping cough… I’ve never studied ‘media studies’, but I think it would be a very worthwhile thing to do, particularly if students of media studies look at the effect various ‘media’ – print, television, telegraph, internet – have on what ‘content’ is to be presented. Naturally, there is quite a bit of discussion on the fact (and the implications of the fact) that television is a ‘visual’ medium. What is more interesting is that it is a medium that gets viewers to see the world as essentially chaotic, discontinuous and without context or history. He makes the interesting point that you can come to a program (any program) on television without any prerequisite knowledge. Now, think about that for a moment. Days of Our Lives can run for decades and yet you can start watching it for the first time tomorrow and there will be virtually no ‘costs’ to you for doing so. He points out that this is true of any and every program on television – even ‘educational’ programs like Cosmos The issues with television presenting us with a passive interaction with the world are only one part of the problem; this issue of context free, prerequisite free information is at least as troubling. He also talks about Lincoln having debates that lasted, and were attended and listened to by interested voters, for seven hours – three hours a piece for each side to present their case and an hour’s rebuttal by the side that went first. In a world where the sound bite is the ‘reasoned argument of choice’ of our politicians, talk of an era where people expected sustained, logical discussion on a topic seems almost bizarre. We think about a world where anyone would spend seven hours of their own time listening to political debates as incomprehensible. In a world at least a hundred times more complex and frightening than Lincoln’s – you know, they didn’t even have nuclear weapons way back then – the fact we are not even prepared to send seven minutes on issues of real import is very troubling. His discussion of the effect on us of news segments lasting only 30 seconds (virtually despite the importance of the item) and the fact that it is impossible to focus on any particular news item for more than the allotted 30 seconds due to the fact that no sooner have you become aware of it than the next one is upon you crowding it out, means the news on television ends up a series of items of trivia which have no direct importance to the lives of anyone watching it. His discussion of religious television is worth the cost of the book alone. You might expect, coming from me, that I mean he is an atheist. He isn’t. But he makes some very interesting points, not just about the fact that religion on television rarely quotes Jesus as saying things about rich men, camels or eyes of needles (which I can only assume was added by some Commie to the Bible over the actual text which obviously said ‘Jesus wants you to be rich’). But he also points out that a religious experience requires you to step out of the profane world and enter a world that is, in at least some sense, holy. However, television requires, and perhaps does not even allow, any such transition to transcendence. I think this is a fascinating idea. He also points out that televangelists are actually the stars of these shows, and God is just someone that gets constantly mentioned, but is never actually present. God’s absence is particularly evident given that this is a medium dominated by images. It is hard not to agree with Postman that given the second commandment about not making graven images, televangelism is probably blasphemous as it is Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Co making graven images of themselves – that is, after all, the central point of the medium. This book is a quick read, but no less important for that. In one of his previous books, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, he says one of the main objectives of teaching is to provide students with a bullshit detector. His own detector is highly tuned, sensitive and virtually unfailing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    ‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.' The modern era is an age of endless information and entertainment. Media looks to the public for what they want, and then sells it back to them wrapped up in the most irresistible packaging they can create, and we eat it up. However, if entertainment is what we desire most, and if everything we receive must compete for our atten ‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.' The modern era is an age of endless information and entertainment. Media looks to the public for what they want, and then sells it back to them wrapped up in the most irresistible packaging they can create, and we eat it up. However, if entertainment is what we desire most, and if everything we receive must compete for our attention, what happens to the so called serious information we need? Does religion, education, politics, and any other form of society get turned into entertainment as well? Like the deadly cartridge in Infinite Jest, are we letting ourselves be destroyed by what entertains us, what gives us pleasure? Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death takes a look at our infatuation with television and technology and examines how the changes in the ways we receive our information affects our public discourse and society. ‘Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us,’ Postman writes, ‘Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley was right.’ Through an analyzation of historic American society juxtaposed with modern examples of politics, education, religion and general society, Postman examines alterations in American culture through our shift from print based media to visual based media.’It is my intention to show that a great media-metaphor shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense….[W]e do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations.’Postman alters Canadian media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism ‘The media is the message’ to his often repeated ‘the media is the metaphor’ idea, simply meaning that the media offers us a metaphor of our own reality and that everything we see through it pulls with it a large array of implied context and framing of information that is controlled by those who deliver it. Everything we view has been spun, even if unintentionally, to reflect some believed context of our culture. Postman argues that ‘in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the thing itself,’ and the unspoken content of media is captured in our minds and grows into our culture through our actions. It has resonance in our culture. ‘Definitions of truth are derived, at least in part, from the character of the media of communication through which information is conveyed.’ For example, we see a character on television that we like and we try and be like that character in our own lives ¹. All news information is somehow framed in a certain light, as is anything we receive through television and broadcast companies. ‘The weight assigned to any form of truth-telling is a function of the influence of media of communication.’ Postman compares the modern era with the times when all information was print based. ‘To exist was to exist in print.’ This section was extremely interesting, especially for any lover of books and the written word, as it emphasizes the power of print in an era where the author and the philosopher were rock stars. Postman, relying heavily on Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, shows staggering statistics of literacy rates (‘between 1640 and 1700, the literacy rate for males in Massachusetts and Connecticut was somewhere between 89 percent and 95 percent, quite possible the highest concentration of literate males to be found anywhere in the world at that time’), emphasis on the importance of education, and a look at how heady works such as Paine’s Common Sense were top sellers and widely read (‘Common Sense sold more than 100,000 copies by March of the same year. In 1985, a book would have to sell eight million copies [in two months] to match the proportion of the population Paine’s book attracted’). He shows how people would sit through eight hour political debates and how the language in political discussions was written at a much higher education level than those of today yet still understood by most literate Americans. In short, Postman attempts to show that the average person in the 1700’s had a better grasp of language and utilized it for more sophisticated purposes than people of today. Through his idea that a change in media creates a change in culture, Postman tackles several different subjects through the course of the second half of his book. Politics, religion and education are shown as having succumbed to the temptation of being made into entertainment. Postman argues that visual media makes the image more important to its receiver than the actual message, and that television is a passive activity instead of an activity like reading that requires some work and thought by the reader. His look at politics argues that a print-based mind, when asked to think about a politician, would focus on his words and political beliefs/platform, whereas a visual-media mind would focus on the person’s appearance and charisma. He supports this with a reflection on the Nixon/Kennedy debates where those who listened to the debate on the radio fingered Nixon as the clear winner, but television viewers placed Kennedy as the clear winner. Kennedy was young, handsome and charismatic while Nixon’s image, having been recovering for an illness and opposed to the idea of wearing any make-up, made him seem haggard and unfriendly. ‘As Xenophanes remarked twenty-five centuries ago, men always make their gods in their own image. But to this, television politics has added a new wrinkle: Those who would be gods refashion themselves into images the viewers would have them be.’ For religion, Postman argues that televised evangelicals bastardize religious beliefs: they remove all the spiritual transcendence, theology and ritual and place the preacher as the focus. ‘God comes out as second banana.’ As I have just completed an extensive presentation and essay on this chapter, I will spare you most of the details, but it highlights that religion of television is more aimed at the wallet than the soul, more focused on celebrity status of preachers and guests than holiness, and gives people what they want instead of what religion is about: what people need. Essentially, Postman argues that television gives messages that are trivial, and these shows get high ratings. ‘Or rather, because their messages are trivial, the shows have high ratings.’ Even shows bent on education ultimately teach children that they love television, not that they love learning (most want to cuddle Elmo, not letters and numbers), as well as offer a flawed attempt at education (focusing on reading as sounding out letters instead of reading being the understanding of words and their order to form a sentence that purveys a message). What makes shows work is the ‘stickiness factor’ (this is more from another book we are discussing for this class, Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference), focusing on the characters, music and sounds that catch attention and make us remember. Postman also shows how news broadcasts, in order to compete, must offer a level of entertainment and become nothing beyond flashy visuals, effects, sounds, music and beautiful talking mouths that spin us a story. Postman shows how televised media creates what he calls the ‘peek-a-boo world’.’A world where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is a world without much coherence or sense; a world that does not ask us, indeed, does not permit us to do anything; a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained…also endlessly entertaining.’We are bombarded by information at all times in a three prong attack on the epistemology of our time: Irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence. Information may be cathartic, but usually most of what we hear doesn’t really relate to our personal lives other than something to talk about, we can’t do much of anything about the information, and has no context to our lives. To further discussion on context, Postman cites Susan Sontag’s work On Photography, where she writes ‘the point of photography is to isolate the image from context, so as to make them visible in a different way… all borders seem arbitrary. Anything can be separated…all that is nessesary is to fram the subject differently.’ Television, as discussed earlier, frames everything in some manner and gives us only a pseudo-context, or a doctored context to make us think a certain way. Television focuses us on the image more so than the information. This book, read for class, is an interesting investigation into our obsession with entertainment and the effects of television in our world. While it was written in 1985, Postman’s message is still poignant today. It must be taken with a grain of salt, however, and while it is well written, Postman’s insistence on ‘this is what I want to say/not say’ is a bit unnecessary and seems as if he is unsure of the reader’s ability to follow along. Also, he does occasionally imply causation when what really exists is correlation, but, if anything has been learned through this book, the reader already recognizes that any information received has been fixed towards reinforcing the message desired by the deliverer. Some of the material is rather outdated however, and it should be noted that this reflects Postman's 1985 and our modern day is a bit different, better in some ways and worse in others. I wish Postman would have gone more into society outside of television as well and how that has changed, such as how products like even books and music are geared more towards the easy message and pure entertainment as opposed to higher artistic standards. There could have been a great chapter examining how this stems from television, or perhaps this is all stemming from a human desire to do what is quick, easy and painless, and Postman's television arguments are actually an extension of that. Who knows. There's a book for someone to write in there somewhere. All that said, Amusing Ourselves to Death is a very thought provoking book that will make the reader hyper-aware of television and its effects in their lives. This is a must for any fans of David Foster Wallace as well. The book is best served alongside other media/culture criticisms, especially Gladwell’s Tipping Point, and having studied it for a course made it all the more interesting. ‘For in the end, [Huxley] was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.’ 3.5/5 ¹ In the class for which this book was assigned, we discussed how shows like Friends and Seinfeld were different from most previous shows as they focused on a circle of friends instead of a family, and instead of family morals much of the plot focuses on the characters moving through sexual partners, which would then imply to impressionable viewers that this is the type of behavior that makes one ‘cool’ like a person on tv. This is a terribly juvenile and seemingly old-person ornery and prude example, now that I see it written down, but you get the general idea. For a more interesting example of, think of how that classic Claymation Santa Claus is Coming to Town hides pro-hippy (it was 1970), anti-establishment (and potentially pro communist?) sentiments in a children’s film. 'Television, in other words, is transforming our culture into one vast arena for show business.' There is an excellent interview with Postman discussing the ideas in this book here Or, a wonderful PBS documentary we watched in class highlighting Postman’s ideas: Literacy Lost

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    As I sit down to write this, President Trump has just described Frederick Douglass as "someone who has done a terrific job that is being recognized by more and more people." (February 1, 2017). Frederick Douglass was an African American abolitionist, writer, and reformer who died in 1895. Apparently, the President of the United States has no idea who Frederick Douglass was, since he is referring to Douglass in the present tense. I have been struggling to understand how Trump got elected. Not just As I sit down to write this, President Trump has just described Frederick Douglass as "someone who has done a terrific job that is being recognized by more and more people." (February 1, 2017). Frederick Douglass was an African American abolitionist, writer, and reformer who died in 1895. Apparently, the President of the United States has no idea who Frederick Douglass was, since he is referring to Douglass in the present tense. I have been struggling to understand how Trump got elected. Not just because I disagree with his political views, but because he is, quite frankly, woefully uneducated. Not only is he woefully uneducated, but he apparently also has no desire to educate himself now that he is President - not even with intelligence briefings. What happened? How has this country gone from Founding Fathers who were intellectual giants - including Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison - to someone who literally cannot be bothered to read a book? And why, exactly, does so much of this country find this to be a perfectly acceptable state of affairs? Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" offers a deeply compelling thesis as to how and why America has slouched so pitifully towards ignorance. As he puts it, "We might even say that America was founded by intellectuals, from which it has taken us two centuries and a communications revolution to recover." Postman argues that in the early America of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the printed word had a monopoly on discourse, attention, and intellect because that was all people had. Most Americans never even laid eyes on their leaders - they knew them only by their printed words. That is to say, Americans only knew their leaders by their public positions, their arguments, and their knowledge as codified by the printed word. Today we don't know our leaders by their words so much as by their faces - thanks to the modern monopoly of visual media - the television and internet. In early America, participation in public life required the capacity to negotiate the printed word and mature citizenship was not conceivable without sophisticated literacy. Now? Who cares. As long as you look good on TV and can speak in easy-to-understand 30 second sound bites, you're good. In fact, Postman writes, modern public discourse does not (and really cannot) appeal to the public's reason as it did in early America, because the disjointed nature of television does not allow for such a sustained level of discussion. Can you imagine a modern American cheerfully listening to a presidential debate for between 5 to 7 hours (as they did in Lincoln's time)? Can you imagine them doing it in person, without pictures of any kind? Visual media has transformed us from a typographical and deeply literate society to one in which we are dazzled by a constant stream of flashing pictures and music that instructs us how to feel. There needn't be much coherence in this visual world because we are endlessly entertained by it and it is so adept at eliciting our emotions. Visual media has such a monopoly in modern America that many Americans don't end up voting for leaders whose knowledge and reasoning appeal to them, but for those who make them feel a certain way. This book was written in 1985, so obviously it didn't discuss the most recent U.S. presidential election. Its theories, however, were easily extended. It explained (to me, at least) why so many Trump voters cannot articulate the political philosophies that convinced them to vote for him, but rather they point out how he made them feel. Trump never even fully articulated any of his political philosophies during the campaign. But people had seen him be "a successful business man" on a reality TV show in which he hired and fired people (even celebrities!), he obviously has lots of money, and his stump speeches appealed to their feelings of dissatisfaction with how the world had treated them - so they felt he must be a good leader who understood them. Many of Trump's voters also "didn't trust Hillary," although I rarely heard it explained why. The explanations I did hear almost always had less to do with her political philosophies, and everything to do with their feelings about her. A far cry from the intellectual discourse of eighteenth and nineteenth century America. This was one of the most fascinating and illuminating books I have read in years. I believe it gave me an understanding of current events that I desperately wanted and needed. Five massive stars. An all-time favorite. Most highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    David

    Well, yes, Mr Postman. You're undoubtedly right in much of your analysis. And I suppose it was prescient of you to be so right way back in 1985 when you wrote this book. But having said that, I'm not sure what else to add. Here we are in 2009. Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of the state I live in. But the republic hasn't fallen. The barbarians are just an annoyance, not a threat. Newspapers may be undergoing a steep decline, but it would be premature to declare this a complete tragedy. I read Well, yes, Mr Postman. You're undoubtedly right in much of your analysis. And I suppose it was prescient of you to be so right way back in 1985 when you wrote this book. But having said that, I'm not sure what else to add. Here we are in 2009. Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of the state I live in. But the republic hasn't fallen. The barbarians are just an annoyance, not a threat. Newspapers may be undergoing a steep decline, but it would be premature to declare this a complete tragedy. I read books. All of my friends read books. Hell, I've even co-authored a scholarly monograph. But guess what? I also have a subscription to Entertainment Weekly. I was stricken at the death of Max, George Clooney's potbellied pig (and probably the living creature who spent most time in bed with George, when you think about it). My favorite television show last year was "America's Most Smartest Top Model". I have a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics. I love "The Tool Academy". I guess what I'm saying is that, even though your analysis may have been spot on, it still left me with one major question unanswered. So what?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Amusing Ourselves to Death is a doom-and-gloom prophecy about the dangers of television and the hazardous effects of passively receiving information instead of critically engaging with it. All other factors become subsumed to the desire to entertain and draw as many viewers as possible, whether in education, news, or even religion, with the rise of the TV preacher. In 1985, this might not have been wrong. But we are now in 2014, and the situation of the media has changed significantly in the past Amusing Ourselves to Death is a doom-and-gloom prophecy about the dangers of television and the hazardous effects of passively receiving information instead of critically engaging with it. All other factors become subsumed to the desire to entertain and draw as many viewers as possible, whether in education, news, or even religion, with the rise of the TV preacher. In 1985, this might not have been wrong. But we are now in 2014, and the situation of the media has changed significantly in the past twenty-nine years. The number of households in the United States which watch broadcast TV has fallen by 500,000 in the last year, and the average time spent watching TV weekly has fallen by one hour in the 18-49 demographic. The median age of the TV viewer in the United States is now 54, and for the post popular news channel, Fox News, the average viewer is now aged 68. If these trends continue, then TV is will no longer continue to have its influence over mass media and 'cultural consciousness' that it has had in the past. Where have the viewers gone? To the Internet, of course. The Internet has been a massive disruptive force to all other forms of media which came before it, including books, news, music, film, and of course, Television. However, I might argue that there is not only a quantitative, but a qualitative difference in the mass use of television and the Internet. My main argument in favor of this is that there is greater diversity of choice in what the Internet offers. I can find my specialized history books and recommendations with greater ease, and you can find whatever niche interests you choose. It is possible to find and discuss specific works in detail, even engaging in discussions about them, almost in some ideal of the Enlightenment age. Even if you do prefer television, it is possible to find a more specific thing which is catered to your tastes, instead of one which is blandly popular to the masses and broadcast in prime-time. I am not saying that the Internet is the perfect solution to the problems which Postman suggests, but it is different enough that his critique does not necessarily apply in the majority of circumstances. The Internet is larger and provides more diversity than television, but it is also more segmented. What we do with it is still a major point of debate. Brave New World is not here yet.

  6. 4 out of 5

    booklady

    I think this was my introduction to Postman and I read this book in a day; it's 163 pages. Yes, I like to read, but even so back then with two little kids, I rarely read that much in month much less a day! I had two nearly-hyperactive (okay yes they were girls) kids of four and five. I only mention this so you know just how big an impression this book made on me at the time. Up until then I frequently resorted to letting the kids 'do' videos several hours a day--not that they would ever sit stil I think this was my introduction to Postman and I read this book in a day; it's 163 pages. Yes, I like to read, but even so back then with two little kids, I rarely read that much in month much less a day! I had two nearly-hyperactive (okay yes they were girls) kids of four and five. I only mention this so you know just how big an impression this book made on me at the time. Up until then I frequently resorted to letting the kids 'do' videos several hours a day--not that they would ever sit still for them--they just had them playing in the background. Like many parents, I suppose, I figured, 'what was the harm?' Not after I read this book. I also stopped watching the news . . . and stopped despairing over the world situation.* We shut off the TV. Period. Life got much quieter around our home. In fact, we reclaimed our home. Postman shows you chapter by chapter how the media runs our lives and how our 'professional entertainers' are the least amusing people in our country. I cannot stress strongly enough how profoundly grateful I am for this book for showing me and teaching me all it did when it did. There's no doubt in my mind that it's because of changes we made in our home then, that our daughters are the good students and strong readers they are today. Thanks Neil! P.S. And I love the cover picture! * There are better sources for finding out what is actually going on in the world than the nightly network news. I'm not advocating dropping out of society and/or becoming a total recluse.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    If someone held a gun to my head and asked for a precise and concise definition of irony (it could happen!), I would say only this: Neil Postman died two days before Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor -thus narrowly missing out on the single best example of what he was screaming about all those years ago. This book was foundational for me. Postman delivers a passioned polemic about the entertain-at-any-cost ethos of our current culture, and how the irrestible siren song of triviality is If someone held a gun to my head and asked for a precise and concise definition of irony (it could happen!), I would say only this: Neil Postman died two days before Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor -thus narrowly missing out on the single best example of what he was screaming about all those years ago. This book was foundational for me. Postman delivers a passioned polemic about the entertain-at-any-cost ethos of our current culture, and how the irrestible siren song of triviality is more dangerous to our democracy than any demagogue's propaganda. Here he is in an interview describing television as the great destroyer of context: “Television is a medium which lacks a because. What I mean by this is that language has embedded in it all these becauses. This happened because that happened. Television doesn’t have a because. How many people, when seeing a newscast about, say, a serious earthquake or an airplane crash, will actually start to cry or grow silent at the tragedies of life? Most of us don’t, because right after the story about the airplane crash, there’s going to be a thing for Burger King or, if not that, a story about the World Series or some other event that would basically imply, ‘don’t take this story about the airplane crash too seriously, it’s just something to amuse you for the moment.’ So I think that goes a long way toward promoting the idea that there is no order anyplace not only in the universe, not on the planet, not on your continent, not even in your home or your town.”

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    "This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." - Neil Postman In 1854 Stephen A. Douglas presented a three-hour speech against Abraham Lincoln's ideas, and in return, on that same night, Lincoln responded with a three-hour argument of his own. The surprise? People actually stayed long enough to hear both men out. Contrast that with the Republican debate that happened last night: 8 candidates were forced to answer leading, disjointed questions in 30 seconds or less. And th "This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." - Neil Postman In 1854 Stephen A. Douglas presented a three-hour speech against Abraham Lincoln's ideas, and in return, on that same night, Lincoln responded with a three-hour argument of his own. The surprise? People actually stayed long enough to hear both men out. Contrast that with the Republican debate that happened last night: 8 candidates were forced to answer leading, disjointed questions in 30 seconds or less. And they were given little if no time to respond directly to another candidate. Plus, there was this: "Sorry, but we have to cut you short to go to a commercial break." Postman's point in Amusing Ourselves to Death is that the TV has turned public discourse into little more than entertainment. Politics, news, and religion all turn into mere amusement when they're on the TV. Postman's point might be summed up best by Ronald Reagan: "Politics is just like show business." If anything, everything Postman critiqued about American society in 1985 has been amplified in 2011. We are more disjointed and fragmented than ever. Political TV is more like entertainment than ever. Every time I see a clip from FOX News there's a banner across the bottom blaring ALERT ALERT ALERT—not to mention all the other flotsam streaming across the screen. That stuff is there to make the news feel like an action movie, and it's reason enough to turn that channel off. Postman argues that all this fast-paced, disjointed news makes us think only of the now. We think we're informed when in reality we know just enough to have an emotion about who "won" last night's debate. The talking heads don't wrestle with history and substantial ideas (you can't do that if you're constantly interrupted by commercials); the talking heads just hack at hackneyed phrases and parroted arguments. After all, wrestling with real ideas requires real thinking, and the point of the TV is to help you stop thinking and be amused. To this quote and many others from the book, I say, True enough: "How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? . . . "What steps do you plan to take to reduce the conflict in the Middle East? Or the rates of inflation, crime and unemployment? What are your plans for preserving the environment or reducing the risk of nuclear war? What do you plan to do about NATO, OPEC, the CIA, affirmative action, and the monstrous treatment of the Baha'is in Iran? I shall take the liberty of answering for you: You plan to do nothing about them." The solution? Read more. In a book there are no commercial breaks. You can wrestle deep with an idea for three hours at a time and come away with real knowledge.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rickeclectic

    Disappointing. Read it if you have to (it is considered to be an "important" book for media folks), but otherwise, just read the following and skip the book. Mr. Postman is obviously a well read person and the book claims the values logic and argument, but his arguments are off kilter. This is especially disappointing because the topic is important and he is a good writer in the classic sense of being able to put interesting sentences together. His thesis is "Some ways of truth telling are better Disappointing. Read it if you have to (it is considered to be an "important" book for media folks), but otherwise, just read the following and skip the book. Mr. Postman is obviously a well read person and the book claims the values logic and argument, but his arguments are off kilter. This is especially disappointing because the topic is important and he is a good writer in the classic sense of being able to put interesting sentences together. His thesis is "Some ways of truth telling are better than others." The written word is good. Visual media, in particular, television, is bad. The medium of the written word, BY ITS NATURE, is one that involves logical argument, expository meaning and truth. Accordign to him, the medium of television is visual and does not support logic, exposition or truth. The ascendance of television has displaced writing and is creating a culture that is focused on entertainment rather than meaning and that is a bad thing. Useful points first: 1. He was a student of Marshall McLuhan and therefore understands how the "medium" of communication inherently informs the type of communications available. 2. He discusses the Orwellian and Huxleyian views of the future, saying that in the USA we have not descended into a totalitarian controlled Orwellian world of communication, but rather drugged ourselves with meaningless entertainment in the Huxleyian Brave New World of willing submission. 3. He starts an interesting discussion of newpapers and the telegraph and illustrated news and advertising that is intended to support his argument on the transition from textual / distanced to visual / immediate media. Confusions on his part: 1. He has an amazing belief that text is the vehicle of truth. Certainly text (leaving aside clearly artistic texts) can portray logical arguments, but that does not mean these arguments are true. In the post-Derridean world we might even question if these arguments can ever be "purely" true. 2. He seems to believe that visual information can only entertain and not have meaning, in particular not the rigorous "propositional" (truth laden) meaning he is so fond of. That is odd, as most people would gladly and willingly talk about how particular images captured the truth of a situation. This does not deny that images can be manipulated, but it is an odd argument to suggest that somehow writing is NOT manipulated and images ARE manipulated. Writing, by its very nature is the manipulation of text to support one's views. 3. He alludes to the past several times, in particular, to Plato, in arguments where he attempts to talk about the importance of writing. This is very dangerous ground, especially if you read Plato's Phaedrus, where Plato condemns writing. The entire debate between Socrates and the Sophists is about how to SPEAK the truth, not how to write the truth. Using Plato to defend writing is a bad idea. 4. Similarly, he seems to think that writing is some amazingly democratic medium, when in fact, until very recently the only folks who were well read were the rich and the religious. Universities (in Europe first) were originally religious schools teaching doctrine and whatever did not conflict with doctrine. The first folks who owned books were the rich. The spread of literacy and the spread of low cost books and then newspapers had almost the same effect on writing as television has had. A lot of writing became more for the masses and therefore less intellectual. 5. He seems to be very interested in the notion of truth in writing, however, he does not ever seem to talk about the truth of literature. He does mention literary works a few times and seems to think they are "good" things, but it must be clear to most people that if literature is "true" it is not true in the same way that a logical argument is true. He does not reconcile this anywhere in his discussion of television or writing. Yet we know most of television is more like literature than like logical argument, leaving aside news talk TV which seems to have very mixed motives. Most TV is fiction and most folks know that. Most factual TV is tinged with the slant of the talking head giving us the information and most people know that as well. That is no different than polemical, political writing and many modern thinkers believe that all writing is at heart political. Is this where I should compare Hitler's Mein Kampf and Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason, which are both polemical and political, and neither is "factual." What he should have said: 1. He mentions Roland Barthes and he mentions Marshall McLuhan. These are useful folks to mention. Barthes talks about how culture "naturalizes" artifacts of human creation so that they seem to be like the phsyical universe and taken for granted. This is a good opening for a semiological discussion of how we "naturalize" television and what that means about us as a culture, but Postman does not do a semiological analysis. He instead rants about how the medium of television prevents any meaning and only supplies entertainment. 2. In a few places he suggests a Marxist analysis of television, the role that the ECONOMICS of television have played in making it what it is today. This should have been the CENTER of his argument. I think it is very difficult to suggest (as he tries) that the medium of television in itself cannot be meaningful or educational or "portray truth." On the other hand, it is clear that, from the beginning, television has been promoted and used to generate revenue and over its life, these economic motives have drastically influenced the character and quality of what is on TV. Until the advent of cable and talk TV, we were driving very narrowly toward the most generic, most revenue generating television shows. Traditional TV catered to the masses and progressively evolved to get the largest audience possible. Unfortunately the larger audience is statistically less educated and less interested in topics they cannot comprehend and so much of television dumbed down. This could have been a good argument on his part, but it is NOT an argument about how television as a medium, cannot provide meaning. It is an argument about how the television industry has gone for the bucks (and how the american government has supported that) and the results of that. COnsclusions: This is not the right book. The book that needed to be written (and it may already be out there) is one about how the medium of television works and how we have limited its value because of our profit motives. It would then talk about how this has been partially moderated by the growth of cable TV, with its myriad of channels and choices, but how this has also started to be watered down to have more mass appeal. Then it would likely close with the web and the notion of YOUTUBE and other visual media on the web, where you can look at and listen to movies made by people outside the commercial industry, you can learn to play guitar, you can look at stupid dog tricks and the list goes on. The advent of (nearly) unlimited bandwidth has made it very easy to provide a multitude of both meaningful and useless content on the web. This has challenged television and ultimately has made television (and movie) folks work harder to create some (some) better stuff. This book might even suggest how Japanese Manga fit into this new media world and how there a (small but growing) number of manga that are educational. This is the book Postman should have written, but did not.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Giacinta

    This was an astonishing book. I picked it up from the library but I really want my own copy now. I was nervous about it because it was written a while ago, before the Internet was the all-pervasive force it is today. I thought it's a book about media, it will be dated, it will say television is bad for you, etc. But it really surprised me. The point of the book is about how the advent of television influenced public discourse and politics. The book speaks at length about pre-television society i This was an astonishing book. I picked it up from the library but I really want my own copy now. I was nervous about it because it was written a while ago, before the Internet was the all-pervasive force it is today. I thought it's a book about media, it will be dated, it will say television is bad for you, etc. But it really surprised me. The point of the book is about how the advent of television influenced public discourse and politics. The book speaks at length about pre-television society in America, and how their worldview was different from a modern one. The author demonstrates how new technological leaps drastically transform a society, shaping our very thoughts, starting with the printing press. The author describes how in the 18th century there were well-reasoned debates and logical arguments, being articulate was a virtue, and oration was an art form. Now, says the author, our attention spans have shrunk, and we rely on sound bites and a speaker's attractiveness to win arguments. The author also described information overload. In the 18th century, when information took weeks to travel between locations, a person had a very local sort of knowledge, that affected them personally. The telegraph changed all that. The telegraph made it possible to receive information that was remote, without context and completely irrelevant to a person's daily life. You can see that the trends the author described have grown even more pronounced with the advent of the Internet. Public society has indeed been changed by that technological advance, but I think we now have a greater ability to narrow our focus, and to filter out information that is meaningless to us. Postman's suggestion was not to turn off the television, but simply to raise awareness of these issues and to teach people to watch television mindfully and critically. Which I try to do anyway. All in all it was an eye-opening book for me and I definitely recommend it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    There's a good feeling you get when you read a book that accurately criticizes something that needs it. If you've ever felt like watching TV was a waste of time, this book will impart such a feeling. Not to mention, providing an arsenal of reasons why TV is a general waste of time. Why, just two days ago my 3rd grade students asked me why the 4th graders at our school always get to watch videos in class and we don't. With Postman's support in my back pocket I explained that TV was nothing more than There's a good feeling you get when you read a book that accurately criticizes something that needs it. If you've ever felt like watching TV was a waste of time, this book will impart such a feeling. Not to mention, providing an arsenal of reasons why TV is a general waste of time. Why, just two days ago my 3rd grade students asked me why the 4th graders at our school always get to watch videos in class and we don't. With Postman's support in my back pocket I explained that TV was nothing more than entertainment. While there may be a great deal of programs on TV from which something might be learned, TV makes it appear as though all learning is or should be fun, when in reality a true education is wrought through critical thinking and some honest hard work. TV demands neither of these, and those who become accustomed to it exhibit similar behaviors when either TV or education (or perhaps anything else displayed on the telly-bunkum-box as just entertainment) becomes less than pleasing: switching off. Entertainment is one thing, and that's fine. But education, news, politics, courts, science, and religion are another. TV, by its natures, rolls everything into show-business, and culture follows suit. If reading books was ever important to you, read this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    I don't know how many commentaries in our culture it could be said to be more relevant now than when they were written 25 years ago, but this one can. If we were distracted and distractible then, demanding television-style stimulation even on serious subjects, we certainly are now. Television's defining role has simply been replaced by stimuli from many different directions. Postman rightly cautions us to be wary of the impact of how a message is delivered on the message itself. I was disappointe I don't know how many commentaries in our culture it could be said to be more relevant now than when they were written 25 years ago, but this one can. If we were distracted and distractible then, demanding television-style stimulation even on serious subjects, we certainly are now. Television's defining role has simply been replaced by stimuli from many different directions. Postman rightly cautions us to be wary of the impact of how a message is delivered on the message itself. I was disappointed, though, that he didn't offer remedies or inspire a countering vision. Especially as someone who makes some Christian references, this seems to me to be an obligation. Is not Christ is still sovereign? Did He not use the format available to Him when He walked the earth, even with all of their limitations? He told stories in a culture that told stories. He celebrated festivals in a culture that celebrated festivals. He used the tools available to foment change, and some encouragement in this direction would have been nice.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kressel Housman

    Anyone remember the pre-Internet days of the 1980’s when television was still king? That’s when this book was written, so for every rant author Neil Postman made against television, I was wondering, “What would he say now?” He lived till 2003, and a Google search will show you that he railed against the Internet, too, but he never lived to see the rise of social media and texting. What would he have said about summing up your personal news into 140 characters right alongside the world’s celebrit Anyone remember the pre-Internet days of the 1980’s when television was still king? That’s when this book was written, so for every rant author Neil Postman made against television, I was wondering, “What would he say now?” He lived till 2003, and a Google search will show you that he railed against the Internet, too, but he never lived to see the rise of social media and texting. What would he have said about summing up your personal news into 140 characters right alongside the world’s celebrities? Television squared, I suspect. The thesis of the book is that television dumbed down our culture and democracy to such an extent, it is comparable to the fictional drug soma in Brave New World. Dictators don’t need Orwellian fear tactics to quell the masses; just keep them happily entertained and distracted and they’ll never rebel. That is why, he argues, Huxley’s dystopian vision turned out to be much more prophetic, at least in the U.S., than Orwell’s. One of Dr. Postman’s biggest problems with television is its detrimental effect on literacy. Following Marshall McLuhan’s adage that “the medium is the message,” he argues that as our culture became more reliant on images to convey information and less on print, it changed our very thought processes. The effect is much more pervasive than people reading less. People think less. They no longer patience for protracted logical discussions that don’t follow a storyline consisting of conflict, climax, and resolution. The news aims to present itself in the same dramatic, visually pleasing format as the TV drama. And that is why, Dr. Postman argues, the more serious and educational television tries to be, the more deceptive and dangerous it is. Dr. Postman makes some excellent arguments, but he does come across as a bit of a curmudgeon, particularly in his attack on “Sesame Street.” He argues that in trying to make reading fun for little kids, the show implanted in them the unreasonable expectation that learning must always be fun. That, in turn, forced our school curricula to become entertaining or it would lose kids' already TV-shortened attention span. The effect, he argues, is as degrading to education as TV news is to our national discourse. Once again, while I can see Dr. Postman's point, my understanding is that "Sesame Street" was created to salvage learning after television had its negative effects. It may have been a concession to the problem, but it was not the cause of it. Also, I'm not entirely sure if our circumstances are quite as bleak as Dr. Postman made out. After all, thirty years after this book was published, someone is still reading it, and that’s in the Internet age. I’m sharing my thoughts about the book on the Internet right now. So if television dumbed us down, is the Internet, which requires some reading, smartening us back up? I wouldn’t say so about the Internet overall, but I do read more because of Goodreads. If Dr. Postman had lived, I think he would have been an author member. So go ahead. Turn of your electronics and live in the moment. Our whole culture needs to unplug more often. But 100%? Even Dr. Postman recognized that TV and computers weren't going away. We can't beat them, and we have joined them, but the least we can do is become more conscious, critical, and discerning about how much digital/visual media we allow into our own mental space.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

    Orwell believed the government would hide the truth, ban books, and in essence dominate people. Huxley believed people would have access to so much information they would not know what truth is and there would be so much entertainment no one would read. Huxley was right. Postman's work is an extended analysis of television. It is a bit dated since he writes at the onset of computers. Much of what he said holds true, but it would be interesting to get his take on how smartphones have changed things Orwell believed the government would hide the truth, ban books, and in essence dominate people. Huxley believed people would have access to so much information they would not know what truth is and there would be so much entertainment no one would read. Huxley was right. Postman's work is an extended analysis of television. It is a bit dated since he writes at the onset of computers. Much of what he said holds true, but it would be interesting to get his take on how smartphones have changed things. On one hand, we are addicted to smartphones and can get entertainment always and anywhere (Huxley's soma). On the other hand, podcasts have made available much learning and there are good podcasts that go quite deep and are popular (History of Rome, Hardcore History, just to name a few). I suspect Postman might say that even here, entertainment taints it. Or, the people who read are the ones who use their smartphones to learn while those who do not read focus only on the memes. If anyone has any contemporary books that bring Postman (and Ellul, who I am surprised was not referenced) up to date, that would be great. For now, this book is a valuable read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Hicks

    It’s hard to over-exaggerate the prescient nature of this book. If only Postman were around to comment on the “Leader of the Free World” revealing foreign and domestic policy over Twitter. I’d read that. But he provides enough here to occupy our minds so that we may attempt to think through our present absurdities. The Trump administration is low-hanging fruit to use as fodder in light of this book. Mr. Postman speaks to so much more. He speaks to the very nature of our social tapestry. If it wa It’s hard to over-exaggerate the prescient nature of this book. If only Postman were around to comment on the “Leader of the Free World” revealing foreign and domestic policy over Twitter. I’d read that. But he provides enough here to occupy our minds so that we may attempt to think through our present absurdities. The Trump administration is low-hanging fruit to use as fodder in light of this book. Mr. Postman speaks to so much more. He speaks to the very nature of our social tapestry. If it was The Age of Show Business in 1985, it is more so now; we are all competing with a “Look At Me Right Now” mentality. I found his off-hand remark that he thinks computers are an over-estimated technology as funny in light of the ubiquitous nature of the microchip today. Perhaps he had a glimmer of optimism in the face of an avalanche of technological progress. Regardless, his arguments are as meaningful today as they were 32 years ago. While he has no way of speaking to the constantly morphing technological environs that we dwell in today, this book is an excellent point of departure to begin to see past the screen and perhaps understand the hidden cultural forces at play today.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erika RS

    This book makes two good points: the media used to communicate affects the nature of the communication, and much of modern communication on serious matters is frivolous. That covers the first part of the book. The rest is a tiresome rant about how TV is ruining us all. The details of the rant are not worth covering, but I do think that Postman misses some important points. First, he never looks to see if there is any good in a visual based communication style. It is true, as he states, that a med This book makes two good points: the media used to communicate affects the nature of the communication, and much of modern communication on serious matters is frivolous. That covers the first part of the book. The rest is a tiresome rant about how TV is ruining us all. The details of the rant are not worth covering, but I do think that Postman misses some important points. First, he never looks to see if there is any good in a visual based communication style. It is true, as he states, that a medium such as television emphasizes emotional impact over rational argument, but emotion can be a powerful motivator. An image of the damage from an earthquake or a hurricane can inspire someone to help when a description of the damage may not. Even on a rational level, a picture can be worth a thousand words as anyone who has ever tried to learn knitting can tell you. Postman only gives the slightest of nods to the fact that textual communication can also be banal. See your favorite social network for more details. A better approach than Postman's, which declares that TV is bad and text is good, is to realize that different communication mediums have different strengths and weaknesses. Television is excellent at providing entertainment, but that is not the only thing it is good for. No media should be the only mode of discourse. Ideally, they should be used to support and reinforce each other.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Malbadeen

    I read a paragraph of this? or a page? or a chapter? or most of it? What I read to the point where Postman said, basically that there is so much information out there that we can not or do not act on that it's pretty ludicrous to keep taking it all in. And I was like cool! I can finally stop paying attention to that war that they're having in that place and all that talk about those hungry people in that one country is now in one ear and out the other. And then I was like double cool cuz I know I read a paragraph of this? or a page? or a chapter? or most of it? What I read to the point where Postman said, basically that there is so much information out there that we can not or do not act on that it's pretty ludicrous to keep taking it all in. And I was like cool! I can finally stop paying attention to that war that they're having in that place and all that talk about those hungry people in that one country is now in one ear and out the other. And then I was like double cool cuz I know I'm not really going to do anything with the information in this book so I tossed it aside, congratulated myself for another adventure in nonfiction and moved on. I do think about this book sometimes when I'm listening to yet another podcast on the mating habits of ear mites in cats or the failing economy of a country I've never heard of and all of a sudden it occurs to me that I'm not going to do anything with either bits of info and I forward the circle thingy, triangle and give a little nod to Mr. Postman and his wise words.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nuruddin Azri

    Buku ini antara buku terpenting yang aku baca pada tahun ini. Tidak hairanlah, Syeikh Hamza Yusuf dan Syeikh Nuh Keller menyarankan bahan bacaan daripada Neil Postman sendiri. Postman cukup terkenal dengan nada sarkastiknya terhadap media massa. Dalam buku ini, penulis menyingkap bagaimana perubahan demi perubahan berlaku terhadap kaedah dan keupayaan rakyat Amerika Syarikat mencerap ilmu pengetahuan. Pada abad ke-17, kadar celik huruf rakyat lelaki di Massachusetts misalnya begitu tinggi sekitar Buku ini antara buku terpenting yang aku baca pada tahun ini. Tidak hairanlah, Syeikh Hamza Yusuf dan Syeikh Nuh Keller menyarankan bahan bacaan daripada Neil Postman sendiri. Postman cukup terkenal dengan nada sarkastiknya terhadap media massa. Dalam buku ini, penulis menyingkap bagaimana perubahan demi perubahan berlaku terhadap kaedah dan keupayaan rakyat Amerika Syarikat mencerap ilmu pengetahuan. Pada abad ke-17, kadar celik huruf rakyat lelaki di Massachusetts misalnya begitu tinggi sekitar 89-95% dan 62% bagi kaum wanita. Pada abad ke-18 pula, buku-buku ilmiah lagi berkualiti begitu laris dijual. Sebanyak 100 000 naskhah buku Common Sense oleh Thomas Paine yang diterbitkan pada Januari 1776 tahun tersebut berjaya dijual menjelang Mac pada tahun yang sama! Bagi mencapai tahap yang sama seperti ini pada tahun 1985, sesebuah buku itu perlu dijual sebanyak 8 juta nisbahnya jika ingin menyamai kadar populasi pembaca yang berjaya ditawan oleh Thomas Paine. Bilangan pendengar bagi wacana oleh penulis buku pada ketika itu menyamai bilangan peminat-peminat yang hadir untuk mendengar konsert daripada artis terkenal setara Michael Jackson. Ini terbukti apabila Charles Dickens melawat Amerika pada 1842 dan beliau diekori oleh orang keramaian apabila keluar ke tempat awam dan diikuti sehinggalah beliau kembali menjejakkan kaki ke rumahnya. Pada era keranuman penghasilan bahan bercetak inilah pemandangan mereka bekerja sambil buku diapit di sisi merupakan suatu perkara yang biasa. Penulisan menurut penulis, bagaikan mempunyai kuasa metafiziknya yang tersendiri. Kerana seseorang penulis seolah-olah bertutur kepada orang yang tidak dia ketahuinya sendiri, malahan bertutur dengan banyak orang (pembaca). Minda yang dibentuk melalui penulisan (typographic mind) juga memberikan masa kepada pembaca untuk berfikir secara analitikal, mengesan falasi dalam logik, menyingkap segala bentuk generalisasi, menimbang idea-idea baharu dan menghubungkan ilmu-ilmu yang ada sebagaimana ahli-ahli astronomi menghubungkan bintang-bintang menjadi bentuk buruj-buruj tertentu. Penulisan membekukan kata-kata dan daripada penulisanlah, lahirnya pakar bahasa, ahli mantik, pakar ilmu retorik, sejarawan dan saintis. Budaya membaca buku yang begitu giat sebelum abad ke-18 pasti akan membuatkan mereka berasa betapa 'absurd'nya idea moden yang wujud pada hari ini yang menguji tahap pemahaman pembaca (comprehension test) sedangkan maksud sebenar membaca itu sendiri adalah memahami apa yang dibaca. Masalah membaca tidak pernah wujud melainkan seseorang itu tidak pernah bersekolah (tidak pernah belajar bagaimana untuk membaca). Menuju ke bahagian kedua buku ini, penulis mula menceritakan bagaimana masyarakat abad ke-19 telah mula beralih daripada typographic mind kepada telegraphic mind. Dengan kewujudan televisyen (pada waktu itu, internet masih berada pada tahap permulaan), masyarakat sudah terbiasa dengan pemerolehan ilmu melalui gambar. Sedikit demi sedikit, masyarakat sudah terbiasa dengan ilmu yang diperoleh secara segera (instant). Konflik dunia yang rumit lagi berselirat, diringkaskan dan disampaikan oleh pemberita dalam masa 15 minit. Diselang-selikan pula dengan iklan yang memualkan tatkala berita mengenai tragedi pembantaian rakyat yang tertindas sedang dibicarakan. Lebih merunsingkan lagi, ia mula meresap ke dalam sistem pendidikan. Rancangan televisyen 'Sesame Street' yang pada asalnya diterbitkan sebagai bahan bantu mengajar mula melorong kepada satu budaya baru – televisyen sebagai salah satu tempat paling efisien untuk belajar. Apa yang membimbangkan penulis ialah, kanak-kanak mula salah faham akan konsep belajar itu sendiri yang memerlukan seorang sifu untuk menegur dan memperbaiki salah silap mereka ketika membaca. Mereka menyangka, pembelajaran perlu menyeronokkan sehingga gagal melihat disiplin, adab dan budaya bertanya yang hanya wujud apabila mereka ke sekolah atau berguru berbanding hanya bergantung kepada rancangan televisyen semata-mata. Komplikasi telegraphic mind ini juga bukan terhenti pada takat itu sahaja, malah ia telah mencabut rasa kesakralan serta kewujudan persoalan-persoalan metafizik dan mistik dalam agama apabila ia dipersembahkan pada kebanyakan skrin televisyen (terutamanya di Amerika) dalam wajah yang salah. Postman bukan sahaja bernada sinis terhadap televisyen, bahkan terhadap majalah-majalah yang sudah bertukar konsepnya daripada yang asal. Jika hiburan di televisyen sudah dianggap sebagai satu ilmu oleh masyarakat, majalah yang sarat dengan info pula sebaliknya dianggap oleh masyarakat sebagai satu hiburan. Kesannya, kecelaruan mula mengambil tempat. Kata penulis, hiburan pada tahap maksimum yang dibangkitkan oleh Aldous Huxley inilah yang sedang meresap masuk ke dalam minda masyarakat pada hari ini melalui media massa. Penindasan autoritarian terhadap rakyat dalam bentuk halus dan di bawah minda paras sedar sebeginilah yang sedang dahsyat berlaku. Bahkan masyarakat tertawa dan mengukirkan senyuman menerimanya petanda menyukainya! Ia bukan seperti apa yang George Orwell utarakan iaitu rakyat dikawal ketat oleh pemerintah. Percambahan ilmu rakyat juga dicantas oleh pemerintah dan rakyat sendiri sedar bahawa mereka perlu bangkit menentang kebobrokan pemerintah tersebut. Bagi melihat bagaimana masyarakat Athens berubah (pada 5 B.C.) daripada ilmu yang disampaikan daripada mulut ke mulut lalu berpindah melalui penulisan, penulis menyarankan pembaca untuk menelaah karangan-karangan Plato. Bagi meneliti bagaimana abad ke-16 yang memperlihatkan transformasi radikal yang berlaku di Eropah melalui percetakan bahan-bahan bertulis, baca pula tulisan-tulisan John Locke. Dan bagi memahami impak revolusi elektronik terhadap masyarakat Amerika pada hari ini terutamanya melalui penciptaan televisyen, baca karya-karya Marshall McLuhan. Dengan reaksi yang begitu pahit untuk ditelan—akan kesukaran untuk menawarkan solusi kepada permasalahan ini—Postman mencadangkan supaya setiap sekolah menekankan dengan serius dan sebetul-betulnya akan kepentingan bahan bercetak dalam membentuk budaya ilmu yang sebenar dalam masyarakat.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ali Reda

    Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who wou Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley marked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.The media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture's intellectual and social preoccupations. It is recreated by every new medium of communication—from painting to the alphabet to television. Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility. Which is what McLuhan meant in saying the medium is the message. "Is the Iliad possible, when the printing press and even printing machines exist? Is it not inevitable that with the emergence of the press, the singing and the telling and the muse cease; that is, the conditions necessary for epic poetry disappear?" ~ Karl MarxWhat people watch, and like to watch, are millions of moving pictures, of short duration and dynamic variety. It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate these requirements of visual interest; that is to say, to accommodate the values of show business. Television has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television, i.e takes the form of entertainment. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.Walter Lippmann, wrote in 1920: "There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies."The published word is invested with greater prestige and authenticity than the spoken word. What people say is assumed to be more casually uttered than what they write. The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author, reviewed by editors. It is easier to verify or refute, and it is invested with an impersonal and objective character. The written word endures, the spoken word disappears; and that is why writing is closer to the truth than speaking. To these people, reading was both their connection to and their model of the world. The printed page revealed the world, line by line, page by page, to be a serious, coherent place, capable of management by reason, and of improvement by logical and relevant criticism. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response. This is the difference between thinking in a word-centered culture and thinking in an image-centered culture. It is also the difference between living in a culture that provides little opportunity for leisure, and one that provides much, which can be invested in reading and spending time thinking. "More than any other device, the printed book released people from the domination of the immediate and the local; . . . print made a greater impression than actual events. . . . To exist was to exist in print: the rest of the world tended gradually to become more shadowy. Learning became book-learning." ~ Lewis MumfordAs a culture moves from orality to writing to printing to televising, its ideas of truth move with it. Every philosophy is the philosophy of a stage of life, Nietzsche remarked. I refer specifically to the Decalogue, the Second Commandment of which prohibits the Israelites from making concrete images of anything. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth." The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking. Iconography thus became blasphemy so that a new kind of God could enter a culture. One sometimes hears it said, for example, that there is more printed matter available today than ever before, which is undoubtedly true. But from the seventeenth century to the late nineteenth century, printed matter was virtually all that was available. There were no movies to see, radio to hear, photographic displays to look at, records to play. There was no television. Public business was channeled into and expressed through print, which became the model, the metaphor and the measure of all discourse. Television does not ban books, it simply displaces them. The printed word had a monopoly on both attention and intellect, there being no other means, besides the oral tradition, to have access to public knowledge. Public figures were known largely by their written words, for example, not by their looks or even their oratory. It is quite likely that most of the first fifteen presidents of the United States would not have been recognized had they passed the average citizen in the street. To think about those men was to think about what they had written, to judge them by their public positions, their arguments, their knowledge as codified in the printed word. But now, you cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content. In a world of television and other visual media, "political knowledge" means having pictures in your head more than having words. Almost certainly those whose looks are not significantly enhanced by the cosmetician's art have no future in politics. Indeed, we may have reached the point where cosmetics has replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control. At the first debate between Douglas and Lincoln in Ottowa, Douglas responded to lengthy applause with a remarkable and revealing statement. "My friends," he said, "silence will be more acceptable to me in the discussion of these questions than applause. I desire to address myself to your judgment, your understanding, and your consciences, and not to your passions or your enthusiasms." How television stages the world becomes the model for how the people stage it. For on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words. The way in which the photograph records experience is also different from the way of language. Language makes sense only when it is presented as a sequence of propositions. Meaning is distorted when a word or sentence is, as we say, taken out of context; when a reader or listener is deprived of what was said before, and after. But there is no such thing as a photograph taken out of context, for a photograph does not require one. Television is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation. Each "headline" stood alone as its own context. The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds, so that the eye never rests, always has something new to see. The idea, "is to keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement. You are required . . . to pay attention to no concept, no character, and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time." He goes on to say that the assumptions controlling a news show are "that bite-sized is best, that complexity must be avoided, that nuances are dispensable, that qualifications impede the simple message, that visual stimulation is a substitute for thought, and that verbal precision is an anachronism." When a television show is in process, it is very nearly impermissible to say, "Let me think about that" or "I don't know" or "What do you mean when you say . . . ?" or "From what sources does your information come?" This type of discourse not only slows down the tempo of the show but creates the impression of uncertainty or lack of finish. It tends to reveal people in the act of thinking, which is as disconcerting and boring on television. In other words, in doing away with the idea of sequence and continuity in education, television undermines the idea that sequence and continuity have anything to do with thought itself. Terence Moran, lands on the target in saying that with media whose structure is biased toward furnishing images and fragments, we are deprived of access to an historical perspective. "Knowing" the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. In fact, it is quite obvious that TV news has no intention of suggesting that any story has any implications, for that would require viewers to continue to think about it when it is done and therefore obstruct their attending to the next story that waits panting in the wings. Theirs was a "language" that denied interconnectedness, proceeded without context, argued the irrelevance of history, explained nothing, and offered fascination in place of complexity and coherence. Television offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend it, and is largely aimed at emotional gratification. Short and simple messages are preferable to long and complex ones; drama is to be preferred over exposition; being sold solutions is better than being confronted with questions about problems. Whereas in a classroom, one may ask a teacher questions, one can ask nothing of a television screen. The men were less concerned with giving arguments than with "giving off" impressions, which is what television does best. Television's strongest point is that it brings personalities into our hearts, not abstractions into our heads. We do well to remember that President Nixon did not begin to come undone until his lies were given a theatrical setting at the Watergate hearings. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge? It comes as the unintended consequence of a dramatic change in our modes of public conversation. But it is an ideology nonetheless, for it imposes a way of life, a set of relations among people and ideas, about which there has been no consensus, no discussion and no opposition. Only compliance. Public consciousness has not yet assimilated the point that technology is ideology. In the Huxleyan prophecy, Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. Television made information into a commodity, a "thing" that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning, it made relevance irrelevant. Most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This suggests that the new technologies had turned the age-old problem of information on its head: Where people once sought information to manage the real contexts of their lives, now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use. This is called disinformation, which means misleading information—misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information—information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing. "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. . . . We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough." ~ Henry David ThoreauFor example, in the 1890's advertisers adopted the technique of using slogans. At about the same time, jingles started to be used. Now almost all television programs are embedded in music. But what has music to do with the news? It is there for the same reason music is used in the theater and films to tell the audience what emotions are to be called forth and to create a mood for entertainment. Many newscasters do not appear to grasp the meaning of what they are saying, and some hold to a fixed and ingratiating enthusiasm as they report on earthquakes, mass killings and other disasters. Viewers would be quite disconcerted by any show of concern or terror on the part of newscasters. The viewers also know that no matter how grave any fragment of news may appear (for example, on the day I write a Marine Corps general has declared that nuclear war between the United States and Russia is inevitable), it will shortly be followed by a series of commercials that will, in an instant, defuse the import of the news, in fact render it largely banal. The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products . Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country— these tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer. And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research. This is the lesson of all great television commercials: They provide a slogan, a symbol or a focus that creates for viewers a comprehensive and compelling image of themselves. Bernard Shaw's remark on his first seeing the glittering neon signs of Broadway and 42nd Street at night. "It must be beautiful, if you cannot read".Moreover, changes in media bring about changes in the structure of people's minds or changes in their cognitive capacities. Stauffer et al. found in studying students' responses to a news program transmitted via television, radio and print, that print significantly increased correct responses to questions regarding the names of people and numbers contained in the material. Stern reported that 51 percent of viewers could not recall a single item of news a few minutes after viewing a news program on television. Robert MacNeil's observes that "Television is the soma of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World."

  20. 4 out of 5

    Abby

    “What Orwell feared was those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. H “What Orwell feared was those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny ‘failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.’ In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.” More than 30 years ago, before we could even conceive of a personal internet or carrying powerful computers around in our pockets, Neil Postman made a chilling prediction the state of American discourse and politics in 2018. Donald Trump is so purely a product and consequence of the Age of Television. It is a gripping and somehow affirming read, backing up all that I have felt this year about wanting to get away from TV, Twitter and the rest of it. Surprised I had not heard of it till now; it reads quickly and is well worth your time. What remains to be seen is whether we can recover from our addiction to entertainment.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bilal Anis

    Definitely one of the most important books I ever read in my life! It is widely said that each book teaches you something.. but this book taught me more things that I can recall. It is a book that was written in 1985 but it is talking about the major problem we are having to day when it come to technology when used as a source of information. This book will change your attitude toward the current media outlets whether it is TV, radio, internet, or social media. It proves that we are becoming les Definitely one of the most important books I ever read in my life! It is widely said that each book teaches you something.. but this book taught me more things that I can recall. It is a book that was written in 1985 but it is talking about the major problem we are having to day when it come to technology when used as a source of information. This book will change your attitude toward the current media outlets whether it is TV, radio, internet, or social media. It proves that we are becoming less intelligent because these technologies are depriving us from true knowledge and proper knowledge path. The book also shows how everything is becoming a show business, from religion, to politics, to science! The book had a prophecy about the impact of entertainment as a major form of aggression, not by governments but by ourselves.. how we lost knowledge about what matter to us and became distracted by the enormous amount of information that we don't use or need.. We are controlled by ignorance.. by what the media is enforcing unto us.. we don't have the choice anymore.. We are amusing ourselves to death and becoming egoistic individuals with ONE purpose... More entertainment and more attemtion... regardless of the form ... Everything lost its value.. religion, death, life, real news, and most importantly education ... Read it ... dont think twice !

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tracey

    This book had been on my To Read list for quite some time; a mention in The Geography of Nowhere was the final spur to check it out from the library. Postman takes a look at how our perception of the world is affected by the medium in which we receive information about it; contrasting the Age of Print (the 18th & 19th centuries) with our current age - starting with the telegraph and continuing through to the computer. Obviously, the main focus is television, as it is the most ubiquitous info This book had been on my To Read list for quite some time; a mention in The Geography of Nowhere was the final spur to check it out from the library. Postman takes a look at how our perception of the world is affected by the medium in which we receive information about it; contrasting the Age of Print (the 18th & 19th centuries) with our current age - starting with the telegraph and continuing through to the computer. Obviously, the main focus is television, as it is the most ubiquitous information source in today's society. His main concern is the United States, but as American programming has pervaded the world, his points may be equally valid elsewhere. Postman posits that our current access to information, especially when presented through images and video, has lulled us into a complacent world, much like that of Brave New World, as opposed to the then-current concern regarding the dystopia of 1984: "What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared were that there would be no reason to ban a book. For there would be no one who wanted to read one." (from the Foreword) He uses the telegraph as the first example of an attack on written and personal discourse through irrelevance, impotence and incoherence; information about situations that do not directly concern us, over which we have no control and quite often missing important details. Photography converted us into a society where seeing, as opposed to reading, was believing - taking the static image of a moment in time as a constant truth. In Postman's opinion, information overload, presented in an entertaining format and broken into 8-minute segments, has lured us away from the active seeking of knowledge and understanding. He examines broadcast reporting, shows like Sesame Street and even televangelists, as examples of how news, education and religion have been bent and twisted to fit the format expected by the television viewer, much to their detriment. "The result of all this is that Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world". (page 106) Postman covers of the history of the transfer of information between people in an interesting way, with the appropriate amount of detail; this in itself makes for a worthwhile read. His philosophical conclusions are difficult to argue with, especially in the arena of politics: "All that has happened is that is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference." (p 111) Unfortunately, he doesn't offer much in the way of solutions: "Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusements?" (page 156) He believes that getting an early a start as possible in educating the public into how our outlook is affected by television and other mass media is the only way to deal with this problem. I've often thought it would be interesting to teach kids how to watch commercials with a critical eye; dissecting the messages as a way of introducing critical thinking. Recommended to anyone who questions the permeation of television in the American society. Quotes "Television has achieved the status of "meta-medium - an instrument that directs not only our knowledge of the world, but our knowledge of ways of knowing as well." p 78 "There is no question that the best photography in the world is presently seen on television commercials." p 86 "The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter, but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether." p. 87

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul Gier

    Postman provodes an insightful analysis about how the medium of communication (speech, writing, television) has a significant effect on the information that is communicated. Television is limited to providing information without context because the communication happens only in a single direction and has strict time limitations. Television is a great medium for entertainment, but it is generally counter-productive as a medium for for communicating more complex ideas such as news, education, and Postman provodes an insightful analysis about how the medium of communication (speech, writing, television) has a significant effect on the information that is communicated. Television is limited to providing information without context because the communication happens only in a single direction and has strict time limitations. Television is a great medium for entertainment, but it is generally counter-productive as a medium for for communicating more complex ideas such as news, education, and political discourse. Postman argues that the limitations of the primary communication medium strongly influences the thought processes of people in a society. Much of the discussion revolves around how the popular communication medium (speaking, writing, radio, etc) affects the way society works. He makes the argument that Americans in the 1800's had longer attention spans and were much more inclined to reason through and fully examine an idea/argument because the primary communication mechanism was printed text. The book gives some evidence of this, but in my opinion, not enough to make a strong case. It's hard to tell whether the typographic society was more thoughtful in general than people today, or if we only see a subset of that past society. Just as today there is a general public that seems only concerned with the latest sports or american idol results, but there are still a significant number of people capable of following a complex political discussion, or reasoning through a logical argument. I would have to see more evidence that the average person back then was really different than the average person today to fully accept the author's argument. In my opinion, the Internet (blogs and wikis) provides the greatest tool we have for putting context back into our discussions about news and politics. TV may have temporarily broken this part of our communications, but now you can see complex political discussions going on between multiple blogs, and wikis with detailed interrelated information. Certainly some people take advantage of this information to generate a more complete understanding of an idea or discussion than was commonly possible before. The open question is whether the average member of the public will use these new tools to build a better understanding of the world, or just to keep track of the latest meaningless trivia and entertainment.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Well I wish I could explain how much I loved this book in a short paragraph but I don't feel that I would do it full justice. A brilliant exposition of how new forms of information technology; without our consent or even active notice, have entirely rewired our culture. In effect, the explosion of visual media has made us demand everything from politics to religion to science be packaged as 'entertainment'. Correspondingly, it has led to the trivialization of all fields of human endeavor in the Well I wish I could explain how much I loved this book in a short paragraph but I don't feel that I would do it full justice. A brilliant exposition of how new forms of information technology; without our consent or even active notice, have entirely rewired our culture. In effect, the explosion of visual media has made us demand everything from politics to religion to science be packaged as 'entertainment'. Correspondingly, it has led to the trivialization of all fields of human endeavor in the eyes of the common person. It has made us a trivial, unserious people; the polar opposites of the learned and thoughtful ones who built the foundation of the rational societies we inhabit today. We have effectively sacrificed rationality on the altar of enjoyment, and are merely presiding over a crumbling edifice of other peoples' good ideas. Having said all that, this is not a jeremiad. The author doesn't condescend or insult the reader's intelligence. In fact, for a book ostensibly meant to decry the displacement by entertainment of all other human pursuits, he subtly reveals that he's actually a hilarious writer. I'm several decades late to this incredible book but it feels as relevant as it must have been then, perhaps even more so.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Holiday

    Amusing Ourselves to Death is the spiritual sequel to Boorstin's The Image. Postman wants us to realize that there is something inherently inferior about the information we consume through visual media. Forget television designed for entertainment - which is at least honest - and focus in something like a news segment. As far as its creators are concerned, the worst thing that it could possibly do is inspire or provoke you, two horrible emotions that risk you getting up and leaving your living r Amusing Ourselves to Death is the spiritual sequel to Boorstin's The Image. Postman wants us to realize that there is something inherently inferior about the information we consume through visual media. Forget television designed for entertainment - which is at least honest - and focus in something like a news segment. As far as its creators are concerned, the worst thing that it could possibly do is inspire or provoke you, two horrible emotions that risk you getting up and leaving your living room and missing the imminently scheduled set of commercials. The result is the unreality we find ourselves in, one where no one can recall the last time they actually DID anything with the information they were given from the television. You realize that the last thing we have to fear is a malicious Orwellian news industry, because what we have is so much worse: culture incentivized to be as shallow, fabricated and captivating as possible, at the expense of what is actually real or true or meaningful.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Shirkman

    “For no medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are.” Considering this book was written in 1985, it can be considered prophetic and accurate in its predictions in almost every way (save when he says the importance of computers is vastly overrated.) I wish Postman was alive to comment on our constantly connected world, how we have even further built our society and culture on the electrical plug, and, of course, “Fake News” (which perhaps he would argue that almost “For no medium is excessively dangerous if its users understand what its dangers are.” Considering this book was written in 1985, it can be considered prophetic and accurate in its predictions in almost every way (save when he says the importance of computers is vastly overrated.) I wish Postman was alive to comment on our constantly connected world, how we have even further built our society and culture on the electrical plug, and, of course, “Fake News” (which perhaps he would argue that almost all news is Fake News). An incredibly important book so that we can stop and consider the impact of mediums on our understanding of the world, and how TV transformed almost every business into show business. I don’t agree with his solutions, but I concur with his claim that asking the right questions about technology is a huge win when we so rarely stop and consider its impact.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Parita

    I think this a must-read for everyone today. This book was written focusing on television but the message it is trying to convey is even more relevant with the social media today. The book does a great job of analysing different aspects of the impact of this "Age of Show Business" with examples. He may seem harsh at times but I couldn't help but agree with him on most points. To quote one of them - "When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual ro I think this a must-read for everyone today. This book was written focusing on television but the message it is trying to convey is even more relevant with the social media today. The book does a great job of analysing different aspects of the impact of this "Age of Show Business" with examples. He may seem harsh at times but I couldn't help but agree with him on most points. To quote one of them - "When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility"

  28. 4 out of 5

    John

    Wow, what a read! This is a book that everyone should read. Postman has diagnosed the problem that most of us didn't even know existed. The trouble is there really is no easy cure. Each person must act upon his solution individually and take responsibility for himself and his family. I have never given so much thought to how to educate my children as I have in the past twenty-four hours that I have been reading this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    Second Reading

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Note to self: It's time to read Brave New World again... Despite having been published in 1985 on a topic (media) that is currently changing faster than ever before and has come light years (almost literally) since its release, this is a book well worth reading for anyone interested in social thought, politics, media, constructive analysis of our society, or fomenting revolution among the plebeian masses. Beginning with a very interesting scholarly consideration of how a medium shapes its content Note to self: It's time to read Brave New World again... Despite having been published in 1985 on a topic (media) that is currently changing faster than ever before and has come light years (almost literally) since its release, this is a book well worth reading for anyone interested in social thought, politics, media, constructive analysis of our society, or fomenting revolution among the plebeian masses. Beginning with a very interesting scholarly consideration of how a medium shapes its content (smoke signals are not conducive to philosophical arguments; in oral cultures, proverbs are essential means of condensing and passing on information) Postman proceeds to examine how the printed word, "typography", helped to shape and direct American culture from the time of the earliest pilgrims through the mid- to late-eighteenth century and the advent of first, the telegraph, and then, the photograph. The printed word, primarily books, provides us with a logical, linear, analytical method of communication. Information content is inherent, he says, in printed communication. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to aggregate a mass of sentences which, in total, say nothing at all. (I wonder how Postman would feel about some of our modern celebrity bios??) A book, a written speech, even a newspaper article or pamphlet or leaflet (think Tom Paine's Common Sense lends itself to premise, proposition, support, and conclusion in a fairly logical manner: if this, then that. On the flip side, this method of discourse could only possibly be useful and effective if the people consuming this information were capable of understanding it. Thus, it appears that the colonial "public" (a surprisingly high number of whom were literate, ~89-95% of men around 1700) was far more capable of rational, linear, analytical thought than many citizens are today. Who today would listen to hours and hours of oratorical debate, for instance, between Lincoln and Douglas? Let alone be able to follow, aurally, the complex sentence structure used to build an edifice of reason regarding complex matters of politics and law? Very few. We'll hardly give today's presidential candidates a five-minute soundbite in "debate"! However, the advent of the telegraph began the process of removing the logical flow of thoughts from information. Instead, it collapsed the continuum of space (Morse was the first "space man") and allowed information to move at the speed of electricity instead of at the speed of humans carrying printed matter (at the time of the invention of the telegraph, this would have been approximately 35 mph on trains). Postman quotes Thoreau (from Walden) on the advent of the telegraph: "We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.... We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough..." The telegraph allowed us to communicate a great many things, removed from context, and without support, sources, documentation, reasoning, consequences, etc. We got the first "sound bites", the first irrelevant trivia, presaging the emptying of content (to be replaced by entertainment) in the age of television. Television has become the dominant medium of national conversation. Most people get their "news" from television, we get a large portion of our "education" from television (from Sesame Street to Nova and the National Geographic Channel), and our politics are discussed almost exclusively through television media. Unfortunately, what works on television is image, rapidity, irrelevance, entertainment. Our news anchors hold that job, not because they know a great deal about anything in particular, but because they LOOK reliable, knowledgeable, credible. They keep the news coming at us in quick, entertaining bursts. They have to, because at any moment "we" can (and do) change the channel. Politics is now less about "policy advisers" than about "image consultants". It matters little, in this age of television, what a politician says, as long as he looks good saying it and "appears" truthful. Commercials, including political (campaign) commercials aim to give us an idea of ourselves to embrace. The car commercial is not about the benefits or innovations of the vehicle: it is about presenting the image of a happy family, or a successful business person, or a conscientious environmental liberal, in such a way that you, the viewer, feel that to own that object is to BE that image. Our identities and our products have been conflated. Likewise with politics. The politician promotes an image of honesty, virtue, intelligence, experience: it doesn't actually matter any longer what he has to say. And we, the viewing public, have become so drenched in entertainment that frankly, most of us don't care. It's too bad that Postman did not write this treatise in the last decade, as the internet has come into it's own. The proliferation of blogs and some on-line news outlets with extensive comment forums seem to hover somewhere in the middle ground between television and its quick soundbites and one-way communication street and the written speech and consequent discussion, internet as oratory. I would have been interested to know what Postman would say on the subject. Personally, I think that perhaps some of us are emerging from the hypnotic spell of television (or were never under it in the first place and now merely have a better medium of communication). We are demanding more rationality, cogency, context, analysis from our news sources, our politicians, our business leaders. But we have to continue to ask questions of our technology, our discourse, our media, ourselves if we are not to fall into a Huxleyian Brave New World in which we are kept happy, willing slaves of entertainment, preferring, as in The Matrix to take the blue pill and remain happily ignorant of reality.

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