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Are We "Amusing Ourselves To Death?"

1675 words - 7 pages

Ever since God breathed life into Adam, mankind has been expressing their ideas and views through different forms of communication. Starting with oral traditions and continuing to the world wide web, the evolution of communication media has shaped the thinking of man. The book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman provides a fascinating commentary on how the cultural shift from a print-based culture to image-based culture has set humanity on a dangerous course toward a Huxleyan demise, where we are enslaved by our own desire for entertainment. This paradigm shift in how we find and interpret information has great ramifications in how we educate our children, practice our religion, view ...view middle of the document...

The oral based culture resolves its conflicts, and derives its values from the proverbs and sayings stored in the mind of a authority figure, a structure found in many of the African tribes. This concept can then be compared to the typographically based realm of legal discourse. In a court of law the judge compares the physical evidence and oral testimony, and compares that with the written law and legal code to come to a conclusion regarding the truth of the case. The point made by these examples is that as Postman says "the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of the forms of expression." Each culture finds its source of information and truth through that medium. So as the typographic and telegraphic media are examined, the epistemology of each medium must be addressed as well.
A typographical society is one which derives its truth from the printed word, an example of which would be the early American society. Through books and newspapers (which were prevalent), the populace was able to discuss the pressing issues of the time, as well as discover and implement ideas from around the world (such as the writings of Locke and Paine). This logically oriented culture paved the way for extensive discussions such as the day-long Lincoln and Douglas debates, whose language was lengthy and complex. The audience was attentive and interested in this hours-long oratory for it gave them an avenue to learn about the political topics in depth, and was expressed in an oral form which mimicked the written style of the time. Public discourse in general was open to complex discussions regarding the legal and political issues, and the information contained in these discussions were found through reading and writing. Postman describes this time as the Age of Exposition and describes exposition as "a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively, and sequentially; a high valuation of reason an order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity and a tolerance for delayed response." The Age of Exposition is Postman's ideal society, but is overcome at the end of the 19th century by "The Age of Show Business."
The Age of Show Business was brought about by the telegraph, for information was no longer bound by distance. The telegraph introduced "irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence" to public discourse. Since information was no longer bound by distance or even volume, the floodgates were opened and information of all kinds from everywhere was freely available. Since there was no context for this information, the relevance was diminished, potency of the message reduced, and the coherence of the data was nonexistent. This lead to what Postman calls a "Peek-a-boo World," information was now in surplus, and intelligence was now "knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them." The growing prevalence of photography merely expanded this problem by providing a context-less expression of "an" object, not a...

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