Monday, July 2, 2007

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Recently, I finished a book that, although published over 20 years ago, contains seeds of wisdom that still ring true today (is that an example of a mixed metaphor...can seeds ring true?). Here's a bit of info/opinion about it.

Let's face it, most Americans are intellectually lazy/inept, and more apt to recite sport statistics or the details of the latest Hollywood celebrity tryst than they are to know/care about issues that actually affect them directly. I just finished a book entitled "Amusing Ourselves to Death," by Neil Postman, that, in essence, blames the constant barrage of useless information we subject ourselves to when we watch/listen to the "news" for part of the mess we are in as a nation. This never-ending stream of info bites, so decontextualized as to mean nothing, serves to deaden intelligent discourse rather than to enhance it. Worse, t.v./radio news struts about as serious media, and too many folks treat it as such, but the mediums of television, and, to a lesser extent, radio, will never lend themselves to serious discourse because they are entertainment outlets that demand a constant flow of new images/talk. Just imagine, writes Postman, a television show that captures people thinking deeply about issues before pontificating: there would be long periods of contemplative silence, something television and radio abhors, and it would be about as exciting as watching paint dry. That is why these media can never come close to, much less replace, print as a means of exposition. Print, says Postman, is the only real way to honestly and intelligently deal with weighty issues, and the queue of trivial information that fill up most every news show is a hindrance to clear thinking.

This book was published in 1986, and some of the television show references are dated, but the main ideas are still fresh and vital. By the way, Postman, contrary to other critics of television, says mindless entertainment, such as The A Team, is what television does best and is far less harmful than the "serious" news shows. It's one of the more important books of social commentary I have read, and it's certainly worth a look. Plus, at fewer than 200 pages, it is a quick, though meaty, read. Your local library should have a copy.

Take care.

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