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Amusing Ourselves To Death Essay

2008 words - 9 pages

Typographic America & the Typographic Mind
In setting an agenda for his argument, Postman capitalizes on the importance of typography itself. In the 16th century, a great epistemological shift occurred where knowledge of every kind was transferred and manifested through printed page. There was a keen sense to be able to read. Newspapers, newsletters, and pamphlets were extremely popular amongst the colonies. At the heart of the great influx of literacy rates was when we relied strictly on print material, not through television, radios, etc. “For two centuries, America declared its intentions, expressed its ideology, designed its laws, sold its products, created its literature and addressed ...view middle of the document...

When illustrations and photographs intruded later on, advertising became more of a psychological and emotional appeal to the intended audience. The idea of ‘reason’, once straightforward through printed word advertisements became distorted through pictures and sounds, invoking the audience’s emotions. Postman calls this time period during which the American mind submitted itself to the sovereignty of print as the Age of Exposition. Typography amplified our sophisticated, intellectual, and objective modes of thinking, as exposition defines. But, as Postman coined the “Age of Show Business”, slowly came and depleted this intellectual Age of Exposition.

The transition from these time periods follows right back to Postman’s main argument of a type of medium changing public discourse. The invention of the telegraph attacked typography’s discourse by making it irrelevant, impotent, and incoherent. Essentially, the telegraph devalued the context of the information by making it a “thing” that could be bought and sold. Postman highlights the consequences of the telegraph through the words of Henry David Thoreau who remarked, “We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate … We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news hat will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough” (67). Through Thoreau’s playful sarcasm, we can see how the telegraph generated an abundance of irrelevant information to appease the transitioning, ill-informed American mind.
Postman compares the value of a book to a value of a telegraph. You can analyze and interpret information and ideas from a book, reflect and discuss these ideas to try and make a connection to what its author was saying. “The value of telegraphy is undermined by applying the tests of permanence, continuity or coherence. The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation” (70). The comparison of these two mediums highlights the media-metaphor concept Postman is arguing for: that the type of medium you use is imperative, that this digital medium (telegraph) is creating a nonsensical resonance of information as opposed to a significant one and is simply there for financial gain.
To further exemplify how language and thought was distorted and dictated by the medium entering the Age of Show Business, Postman calls attention to the concept of an “image”. For example, let’s use photography. Like books, photography has a vocabulary, but solely a vocabulary of images – concrete pictures or representations of something. If you look at a photograph of a picture of a tree, there is no getting around...

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