Book Blog.*

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Chapter 8
March 8, 2010, 7:25 am
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Apparently, long distance praise doesn’t count.

Postman’s next target would be those TV preachers that we see on those access channels on Sundays (actually, it’s more of an everyday thing now.) This is the shortest chapter in the book, I’m almost sure of it. He goes deep enough into his analysis to prove that religion (and everything else) has to change to become televisable. What does this mean? Well, simply that the type of experience we  get from watching church is different from the one we get from going to church.

I’m not sure whether I agree or disagree. I mean, who watches church on TV? I think people who go to church are more likely to, well, go to church. Those who don’t go aren’t watching these channels anyway. Doesn’t necessarily mean he’s wrong. These televised chruch sessions have to try and make everything they do as entertaining as possible (just like any other show) otherwise we won’t watch.

Psst. And we still aren’t watching.

It just makes me wonder if there’s anything that can’t be ‘made for TV’, so to speak. We have court cases, church, autopsies, near-death experiences, cheerleading competitions, sports games, law shows, sex shows, informercials…I mean. Postman’s right that this has become of main way of communicating, but is there anything that we can’t get from channel surfing?

We even get some universal truths from television, too. I found this fellow wordpress blogger’s post to be pretty amusing:  17 Things I’ve Learned about Life from Watching Movies and TV.


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Chapter 7
February 28, 2010, 2:36 pm
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She only has to act as if she's telling the truth and look pretty while she does.

I will take the opportunity to make a short post (I think I have been averaging on about 500 words a post – I think Postman would be proud…or cynical of our ability to digest such large amounts of information).

Postmas dedicates chapter 7 to analyzing the ‘norm’ when it comes to reporting the news. Again, he maintians that we have lost our ability to be contextually informed and points out that the people who know the current names of the officers in our government and our world’s politicians are in the minority and those who don’t are…well, ignorant. Because, clearly, that is what really makes the difference between being able to think and reason – Knowing which political figures are ignoring our wants and needs.

One thing he does say that I agree with would be that our newscasters are picked to not only appeal to a wide audience but to look truthful.  He even touches on the Regan scandal several times, asserting the idea that it wasn’t that Regan was a liar, only that he looked like a liar. Something, he continues to explain, is dangerous in our society  since we seem to be convinced only by what we see. Telling the truth and looking like a liar is one thing – Lying and looking like you’re telling the truth is another thing altogether.

Then & Now: Media History.
February 28, 2010, 2:10 pm
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Here is a timeline that takes you from Robert Wagner to…my new ipod?


Amusing Ourselves to Death: Opposing Opinion?
February 1, 2010, 8:59 am
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So I was reading my homework assignment for this Media History class. Chaper 7 focuses on Norbert Wiener. For those who don’t know, he was a Hungarian mathematician and communications specialist who also wrote a couple of books about Cybernetics, which is the science of transmitting messages between man and machines.

Wiener made an interesting point. His philosophy was that our relationship with machines would bring us well-being and a better quality of life. To him, it didn’t matter whether we were communicating to animals, machines or to each other – all the messages were equally important. Now, this seems to be the opposite of what Postman was saying in this book. He feels that our being engrossed in technology – especially with some of our ridiculous, instantly gratifying uses – could potentially ruin us. Wiener believed that technology is a part of our society and, just like in nature, we can only survive if we are able to adapt, respond to and learn to form a beneficial relationship with it. We can learn a lot about our society from how we communicate, he says, and I think Postman would agree on that point.

It just seems that Postman would say that such a strong relationship, even if it were beneficial, would eventually drain us of our morality and good ol’ common sense while Wiener would likely encourage this relationship because it could bring us a higher sense of awareness.

Agree? Disagree?

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Chapters 4-5
February 1, 2010, 8:28 am
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As I read further, I began to find things that not only angered me but offended me, just as Andrew Postman expected. Maybe in 1985 people were more open to the idea of technology ‘ruining’ us, but I feel such a strong need to defend the world that I live in;  I think this is the reason I have been reading even faster than usual.

Postman, in chapters 4 and 5, delves into the mental side of reading type – Having to ignore the shape of the letters in order to get the essence of the message and then juxtaposes the audience of debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas with today’s audience.  In the instance of the aforementioned debate, the audience sat and listened for a total of seven hours, with the exception of a dinner break. What?! I can understand why he would not believe that today’s audience wouldn’t be so accomodating – especially without the aid of pictures. “These were people who regarded such events as essential to their political education,” he says, and then goes on to say they didn’t need bells and whistles to enjoy an oratory event.

Now, I don’t want to react as if he is making a blanket statment that is meant to include everyone. In fact, he has been very careful to commuicate to the reader that he is not completely against television nor is he trying to say that everyone is amusing themselves to death. I am just saying that, as I can tell right now, we are not any less interested in our ‘political education’ or any less interested in listening to people talk about such things simply because we aren’t holed up in a room or a park for the better part of a business day, listening to two people go on about what they think. Then he goes on to explain that the debators asked audiences to sit in silence instead of their usual cheering and jeering, for their silence was more valuable than their audible passion for what was being said. What? With the way these debators spoke? Yes.  This became true for writing as well – There were to be no emotions commuicated through writing just like, as we read, we have to emotionally disconnect ourselves from what we were reading in order to fully accept full message.  I guess it would be silly, as Postman mentioned, to stop reading to react.  Putting  your book down on the train, in the middle of a sentence to begin a touchdown victory dance because the author made a good point? Ridiculous.

 Postman also discusses  how Lincoln and others spoke their thoughts in a way that was ‘pure print’. Someone could record everything that was being said, word for word, and it could be put in a book and sold as-is. He also implies that we can’t or won’t have the capacity it takes to process a message if it were spoken that way in ‘today’s’ world. I quoted ‘today’ to remind myself and my fellow readers that ‘today’ is not 2010 (which I pronounce the cool way – ‘twenty-ten’) but 1985, when the book was first written. Maybe back then we weren’t smart enough to internalize complex sentence structures delivered orally. Is that still true today? Probably. Or, maybe, the messages are just as complex but are simple in their execution. He tries to make sure not to give the impression that the people of this time were “models of intelletcual property” but he pretty much does it anyway.

Yes, people in 1858 were keen on their ability to hear the messages for what they were, even when they were in pretty, elaborate packages. Our messges are shorter now and definitely simpler but the sheer quantity of information we handle on a daily basis would make old Abe’s head explode. Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t experiencing degradation but an evolution that transcends the ability to comprend idea of that ‘complexity’ though, I believe, we could do that, too.

Finally, he discusses the introduction of advertisements in newspapers in the 1860s. They were just as long and complicated as the words of  their public speakers until 1896, when Procter and Gamble made a slogan for Ivory soap while many other companies began using pictures and short catch phrases to catch the readers’ attention.  Postman considers this to be a time when advertisers stopped assuming that their potential customers were rational enough to absorb advertisements that were delivered in prose. “Advertising became one part depth psychology, one part aesthetic theory. Reason had to move itself to other arenas.”

And so, finally, with this last quote from Postman, I pose this question: Did we go from having no emotional connection to our words and our audience to having so many emotions we can no longer utilize or appreciate writing and speaking like we once did?

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Chapters 1-3
February 1, 2010, 7:37 am
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I’ve actually read much more than this post will cover. So far, even though I disagree with a lot of what he has said, I would say this is a very good book. Now, let’s get started:

In the first three chapters, Postman explains why our society is “made” from the ways in which we communicate. As an example, he offers the notion that daily news programs did not exist until there was a medium in which it could be communicated within society – televisions and newspapers. This may be true, but I find it hard to believe there was never a form of daily news within a community before television and newspaper became the norm. Our culture has always been driven by what is occuring around us.

He also says that  all of our communication consists of our interpretation of images from media – after all, they are ours to interpret and we don’t actually need to communicate with other people to comprehend the symbols we are faced with every day. He asserts that it is an internal conversation carried on within one’s self. Furthermore, we are not often aware of the cognitive abilities necessary to interpret these symbols and we hardly think of them.

Each new man-made invention creates a whole new society, he claims. When the clock was created, we became a society that has learned to live “moment to moment” based on a system we have decided was suitble to track time. We don’t see the clock for what it is – a machine that delivers an output that merely appears to produce hours, minutes and seconds and is independant through most environmental influences.  It changes our mindset about how we live our lives and, therefore, changes our culture.

He goes on to say that with each new medium of communication, another form falls by the wayside. He uses the birth of typography as an example:

The invention of the printing press itself is a paradigmatic example. Typography fostered the modern idea of individuality, but it destroyed the medieval sense of community and integration. Typography created prose but made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of expression. Typography made modern science possible but transformed religious sensibility into mere superstition. typography made patriotism into a sordid if not lethal emotion.

I agree with this. A few posts ago, you may remember my media history referring to some people who may see one of the negatives of this technological age as the lacking of direct, interpersonal relationships. I have friends that are often miles and months apart but, when we were younger, always found a way to get together and hang out. That has becoming increasingly unnecessary – What for? We can just text…right?

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
January 25, 2010, 5:30 am
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In 1984, Huxley  added,  people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Image from Barnes & Noble
Book cover

As if the above excerpt, which came from the introduction, were any indication of the eye-opening potential contained within, take a look at the cover! I chose this book out of three I felt were readable and possibly enjoyable. I’m glad I did.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is a book that was not nearly as relevant when it was first published twenty years ago as it is now. Neil Postman’s son, Andrew, maintains this point in his foreword by making some seriously accurate connections between what his father feared and what has arguably come to pass in recent years.
     This book claims to be a ‘call to action’, something that many of the news programs, reality shows, and trash TV aren’t.  It also expects to serve as a wake-up call for a world that has become so engrossed in the instant gratification that comes from television (computers, the internet, and cellphones) that it has lost its ability to think.
     The author (and his son) expected to receive grand overtures that defended the world’s need for all of the technology in our world today, but as the foreword also explains, this has not been the case as time has gone on – it has actually been the polar opposite. Many people who read this book not only understood Postman’s fears, but agreed with them.
     This has become especially true among the group of people, Andrew feels, who are the most unbiased and uncorrupted group – people who grew up in this age and therefore aren’t held ‘captive’ by an older generation’s logic: Us. College students. We, more than anyone else, have our minds the most open to the fact that all the things that have become our lifeline could potentially ruin us. Weird, huh?
     I think this will be an interesting read.