Amusing ourselves to death – Neil Postman


Few things are so blissful as having one’s opinions validated. It is my experience (and this just might be a reflection of the caliber of people I have been hanging out with my whole life) that most people you meet talk largely out of their asses. I am guilty of this too, but from my perspective that thoughts that I pull out are largely true. Once in a while, I can point to a book and proudly exclaim: “See? That smart guy with a load of degrees agrees with me”.

I have for years been telling people that the dystopian future that we should be concerned about is not the once described by Orwell in 1984, but the one described by Huxely in Brave New World.

Imagine my over the moon joy when Niel Postman says pretty much exactly that in the introduction to Amusing Ourselves to Death, and then spend the rest of the book proving the point. The book chronicles the perceived effects happening (or rather, which had happened) to the American culture landscape as it abruptly transitioned from a print based culture to a audio/visual culture. The implication of this transition is of course one from an active and participatory culture, to that of passive consuming culture. It’s a sophisticated version of the argument that society is being dumbed down.

When it comes to this accusation against society at large is obliviously “but is he right?”

I don’t know. Maybe. That particular discussion is beyond the scope of a meager book review. What can be spoken about is Postman’s argument. It doesn’t seem wrong per se, it just seems late. This book was written in the 1980’s, and the internet was at the time unfathomable. Well, the social impact of the internet seems to this reviewer an order of magnitude larger than the social impact of television, and so it is not so much a matter of whether Postman was right or wrong, but how much of what he wrote is applicable or not. The internet, though largely audio/visual, is highly participatory.

Then again, maybe not. If we are to believe Postman’s subtext that print culture versus television culture has a neurological effect on us, an extension can be made that the Internet’s effects will be even worse. Or at least it would seem to follow.

So perhaps our metric should not be accuracy of argument so mush as the soundness of it. And for what it’s worth, the argument seem sound enough. We will see where things go with the implications. It does appear that we are amusing ourselves into self-suppression.

Huxley would be proud.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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