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

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Penguin Books, 1985 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 184 pages
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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really goot, taught me a lot about the tv and the way that tv shocks our life.

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Neil Postman is an extreme critic against television and its epistemology that differs from the typical typographic mind of modernity. In the first part, he successfully argues that the medium influences the message. However, this is no novelty: philosophy is better written in books than with emails, a dictionary of foreign words is easier produced on a book than a telegraph. Additionally, his analysis of the typographic mind of America seems extreme. Postman is blunt: before television America had the greatest mind, after television America has a shallow mind that just wants to be entertained. While the entertainment industry has undoubtedly shaped epistemology, it seems that more factors should be taken into consideration to analyze one's mind. Logic and reading are only one aspect of intelligence. One can argue that visual, musical, environmental types of learning can be as good as other forms. What seems to have changed might be people's desire to be entertained more often than they used to be, because entertainment is everywhere. In the second part, it seems flabbergasting that a media theorist and cultural critic is unable to find anything positive about television. One might feel that he just dislikes any means of communication that differs from print (i.e. television, photography, telegraphy, smoke signals). It seems that Postman is nostalgic for modernity. He critiques postmodernity, where epistemology is more fragmented, and one's mind is more visual than typographic. However, to be fair to Postman, his analysis of how entertainment has affected public discourse is enlightening. It is indeed a new type of communication that has monopolized the public discourse, and one needs to be aware of the medium being used to communicate a message, because, as we know, the medium influences our epistemology.
Positively, the way he contrasts Huxley and Orwell's fear of an oppressive society is fascinating. He states, "There are two ways the spirit of culture may be shriveled. In the first -the Orwellian -culture becomes a prison. In the second -the Huxleyan -culture becomes a burlesque" (155). It seems that those two opposite types of oppression could meet in their extremes. Especially when technological media has been so prosperous, it is easy to think of a society that would use the information and entertainment produced by this technological media to control and oppress its people, without them even being aware that their freedom has been taken away. Reading this book made me understand how the shift from modernity to postmodernity might have taken place within the media. Postman made me realize that to understand the media helps to understand how a society thinks and functions.
Negatively, I think that Postman gives the print too much credit. The print is not the only resource for one to improve her mind. Additionally, print has brought some negative consequences to the mind. One does not need to use and improve her ability to remember if she can always write down information. Postman needs to realize that books are not the primary way of communicating information now. Therefore, instead of rejecting this new media, it seems that I should explore how I could use it the best way I can for my purposes.


The Medium Is the Metaphor
Media as Epistemology
Typographic America

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About the author (1985)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, and educated at the State University of New York and Columbia University, Neil Postman is a communications theorist, educator, and writer who has been deeply involved with the issue of the impact of the media and advanced communications technology on American culture. In his many books, Postman has strongly opposed the idea that technology will "save" humanity. In fact, he has focused on the negative ways in which television and computers alter social behavior. In his book Technopoly, Postman argues that the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys humanity by creating a culture with no moral structure. Thus, technology can be a dangerous enemy as well as a good friend. Postman, who is married and has three children, currently is a professor of media ecology at New York University and editor of Et Cetera, the journal of general semantics. In addition to his books, he has contributed to various magazines and periodicals, including Atlantic and The Nation. He has also appeared on the television program Sunrise Semester. Postman is the holder of the Christian Lindback Award for Excellence in Teaching from New YorkUniversity.

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