Angela's Reviews > Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
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's review
Apr 18, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: psychology, non-fiction
Read from July 14 to 21, 2013

Written in 1985, this book argues that switching to television as the primary means for getting our news changed public discourse so that, because of the medium being used, it basically became impossible for us to engage in thoughtful, meaningful public discussion. That news and other so-called "serious" television became entertainment not through some sort of conspiracy or active choice on anyone's part but just because of the nature of the medium - that soundbites and emotional vs. rational arguments became dominant because of the visual nature of TV. And that as a result of the domination of TV, print media changed to become more TV-like (tabloid newspapers and the like).

A lot of this whole discussion reminds me of the Amish approach to technology, which is to carefully think about how new technologies will impact family life before deciding whether or not to adopt them. Versus the approach of the rest of North American society, which is just to accept everything new, without much thought as to whether it might have a negative impact on society. And I can relate to the first approach - it's what I try to do in my personal life. But I don't think it's something that should be imposed on society as a whole. Sure, have the discussion, but people should get to make up their own minds about how they live their lives, even if that means they choose 6 hours of reality TV each night.

One thing that I didn't realize was how relatively well-educated the first colonizers of North America were, and wonder how much of an impact this had on the development of North America. For example:

"In this connection, it is worth citing a letter, dated January 15, 1787, written by Thomas Jefferson to Monsieur de Crève-coeur. In his letter, Jefferson complained that the English were trying to claim credit for an American invention: making the circumference of a wheel out of one single piece of wood. Jefferson speculated that Jersey farmers learned how to do this from their reading of Homer, who described the process clearly. The English must have copied the procedure from Americans, Jefferson wrote, "because ours are the only farmers who can read Homer.""

In all, an interesting read, although parts of it came across as curmudgeony.

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Reading Progress

07/14/2013 page 21
10.0% ""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.""
07/16/2013 page 82
39.0% """Knowing" the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.""
07/16/2013 page 85
40.0% ""The new imagery, with photography at its forefront, did not merely function as a supplement to language, but bid to replace it as our dominant means for construing, understanding and testing reality.""
07/17/2013 page 95
45.0% ""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.""
07/18/2013 page 118
56.0% "On radio call-in shows: "Such programs have little content, as this word used to be defined, and are merely of archeological interest in that they give us a sense of what a dialogue among Neanderthals might have been like.""

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