Amusing Ourselves to Death: It's Time to Stop Laughing
The form of communication created by the television is not only a part of how our modern society communicates, but is has changed public discourse to the point that it has completely redefined it, argued Neil Postman in his convincing book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He viewed this as very harmful, and additionally so because our society is ignorant of it as they quickly becomes engulfed in its epistemology. When faced with the question about whether the television shapes or reflects culture, Postman pointed out that it is no longer applicable because "television has gradually become our culture" (79). What kind of culture is this? Postman warned that it is one in which we are instructed and informed through the form of entertainment, and that through such a medium, we are becoming dulled, ignorant of real issues, and amused right into a very possible culture death. Today, sixteen years after the book's publication, he would probably have a similar message (though possibly more passionate) to say about our present culture, especially in the areas of education and the nightly news, which have grown progressively worse.
Taking two authors, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, he compared their views about the future of information. Orwell's view was that we would be overcome by a controlling force and books would be banned, leaving us without proper information or instruction. Huxley, on the other hand, suggested that the squelching of information would not be the problem. Instead, it would be the voluminous mass flooding our culture that would make us ignorant. We would have so much to choose from, both useful and worthless, that we would become indifferent to information of any kind, except in the most trivial sense. In the course of his book, Postman proved that Huxley's prediction has come true. We are now in the "information age" where we demand to be informed, yet are told in such a way that we think we know so much, but in fact we are becoming increasingly ignorant.
Postman made it clear that his book is not an attack on the television itself. Instead he asserted that, supplied by the television's form, it is the change in the definition of how we learn, and thus perceive, the world around us that is under his criticism. When it comes to entertainment, Postman admitted that the television does an excellent job. "Television [...] serves us most usefully when presenting junk-entertainment; it serves us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse-news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion-and turns them into entertainment packages" (159). The television does not require viewers to carry thoughts from minute to minute, and their eyes are never unstimulated, as the average duration of a camera view is a mere 3.5 seconds (86). Such brevity of thought and picture are a drastic difference from the way we used to get our information. That is,...