Sunday, July 17, 2011

Blog Assignment 14

Amusing Ourselves to Death Book Cover
        For this assignment, I chose to read a book.  Dr. Strange recommended Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman.  Wow.  When I started this book it was so easy to get sucked into its arguments and believe every word of it.  Mr. Postman framed his arguments so logically that it was nearly impossible for me to disagree with him.  Although this book was written in 1985 and focused on the fact that the television was not reflecting or shaping culture, but becoming the culture seems to fit today's effects of the computer and internet.  Dr. Strange believed some of what I had argued in some of my previous blog posts were more undeveloped versions of what Mr. Postman was trying to argue about the television.  Therefore, it was difficult for me to stay neutral when Mr. Postman made his opinions.
        The introduction of this book was given by Neil Postman's son, Andrew Postman.  This introduction was written in 2006 and Andrew Postman explained how he believed that his father was simply ahead of his time in writing such a book in the 1980s.  Andrew Postman believed that the internet had become what his father felt television was to society.  Mr. Postman develops his book beginning with an explanation of how speech has always been something completely human, but that the development of the written word is what made humans more advanced and history more enduring.  However, in the 20th century, television had taken over the role of the written word as a source of information and entertainment.  It started with the invention of the telegraph which created the idea of "today's news" and began to feed people with useless information.  The eventual resolution to having useless information?  Television game shows.    Eventually, people would lose their ability to pay attention for long periods of time without becoming bored.  Mr. Postman gave the example of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in the 1800's which would last all day long.  Each man would spend anywhere from 3-5 hours with a rebuttal to the other man's argument.  Now, presidential candidates have only a few minutes to answer questions on national debates that are shown on television.  This is not only because we have shorter attention spans, but because television seeks to keep us constantly entertained, never bored.  (Otherwise, the television station will lose money because viewers will change the channel.)  At the Lincoln-Douglas debates, people listened intently the entire time for hours on end.  Later on, Mr. Postman discussed how television shows typically lasted 30 minutes and rapidly changed genres with each new 30 minute segment.  This was to keep audiences constantly entertained.  He talked about how news channel's purpose had also become pure entertainment.  Each story lasted no longer than 45 seconds and would transition from an extremely heartbreaking, dramatic story to a story on how to make spicy tacos.  It was not serious at all.
"Television, in other words, is transforming our culture into one vast arena for show business.  It is entirely possible, of course, that in the end we shall find that delightful, and decide we like it just fine.  That is exactly what Aldous Huxley feared was coming, fifty years ago." 
        Aldous Huxley was the author of Brave New World.  This book is centered around the thesis that people will unknowingly create their own demise by constantly giving into entertainment.  This seems to be the exact opposite to George Orwell's 1984 in which people are slaves to their government.  Neil Postman bases his own thesis around the idea that Huxley was correct in his book Brave New World and refers to him frequently.  Mr. Postman ends his book offering two solutions to the television entertainment problem     create shows that get people thinking about what television is actually doing to them and their society and for educators to change the use of the television to get children thinking, not just accepting opinions heard on television shows.
        Now that I have explained the basics of this book, what does this have to do with computers and internet today?  It seems one could almost interchange the word "television" with "internet" or "computer."  In my opinion Neil Postman was correct and he was ahead of his time as his son said.  My fear is that because young people have begun to use computers for so much and have access to so much, their beliefs and opinions are being shaped without them realizing it.  I will not lie, I am an example myself.  Viral videos?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Computer games?  These can be completely useless and a waste of time (viral videos probably always will be) but the point is we need to change how they are used.  Create ways in which young adults do not use the time on the computer as forgetful entertainment.  Like Mr. Postman said about the television, let education control it.  Draw attention to the fact that we need to be aware of what internet is doing to ourselves and our society.  I believe the Ad Council could put out some nice advertisements for this. I am starting to realize that Dr. Strange intended EDM 310 to be just this.  A way of learning to use the internet and computers in a way that is not complete entertainment, but rather, educational.  This is not to say that we should eliminate the lecture or the hand's on experiences that involve being outside or creating things, but the high use of the computer is irreversible so we must learn how to cope and use them in a good way.

1 comment:

  1. Ah...

    You catch on so quickly! Next semester you and I will do a philosophical podcast on this general topic. I have more readings for you. And you will get paid for it! (Well, a little bit!)


    P.S. One of the staff members left this comment in our assessment records Doc: "I hope she is getting paid to be a student at this university." I won't reveal any more. It might go to your head!