book i've read

Amusing Ourselves to death

Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Author

Neil Postman

genre

Media Ecology

Year of issue

1985

ISBN

0670804541

What's it about?

Tracks the evolutionary history of how news travelled over the course of the 20th century & and how the adoption of these new technologies changes the expectations of the culture that adopts them. From the first newswires all the way to 24-hour cable news, adopting the television as the primary mode for consuming news about the real world turned the world itself into a production.

who should read it?

If you’re a political junkie like I am and want a book that scares you straight when it comes to the need to moderate your intake of news (especially the news that has nothing to do with you), Amusing provides an overview of why the US political process has transformed into horribly drab episode of the worst “reality” TV show you can imagine, but with nuclear implications.

how the book changed me

Postman’s account of how the media landscape changed across the US over the course of the 20th century clued me in to the notion that the true value of any piece of information is in its utility toward the consumer to affect change in their own lives with it. Most of the information that we take in on a daily basis can be boiled down basically to trivia, as the goings on in countries half way across the world bear almost no impact on your day to day life. The trouble is how the television turned the US political process into a “show” like you’d watch on any other channel, forcing it into a pro-wrestling like “kayfabe” as once posited by Eric Weinstein.

SELECTED QUOTES

By the turn of the century, advertisers no longer assumed rationality on the part of their potential customers. Advertising became one part depth psychology, one part aesthetic theory. Reason had to move itself to other arenas.

In the age of television, our information environment is completely different from what it was in 1783, that we have less to fear from government restraints than from television glut; that, in fact, we have no ay of protecting ourselves from information dissemination by corporate America; and that, therefore, the battles for liberty must be fought on different terrains from where they once were.

When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when (in short) people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility... to be unaware that technology comes equipped with it a program for social change, to maintain that technology is always a friend of culture, at this late hour, is stupidity plain simple... 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.