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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse…

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (original 1985; edition 2005)

by Neil Postman, Andrew Postman (Introduction)

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3,052421,857 (4.12)28
Title:Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Authors:Neil Postman
Other authors:Andrew Postman (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Books (2005), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 208 pages
Collections:Your library

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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman (1985)

  1. 10
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (jstamp26)
  2. 00
    The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom by Yochai Benkler (chiudrele)
    chiudrele: Explains how today's world of internet is different from the old world of television. Society is not merely consuming information and culture, it can also participate in creation of it.

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The author begins with a comparison of Orwellian Marshall law and Brave New World's apathetic utopia. He makes the argument that the apathetic utopia is becoming more of a reality as people are consumed by distraction, pleasure, and apathy. I always thought the Brave New World reality sounded pretty good, other than the fact that the the will to progress and overcome situational circumstance is taken away with test tube babies predestined for a life that lacks fundamental choices based on genetics. Postman points out that in 1984 reality, books are banned and information is restricted, but in BNW reality, books don't need to be banned because nobody wants to read them, leaving a society devolved into one that chooses its own ignorance and sheepishness. Choices are taken away, pharmaceuticals are dispersed and civilization is at its pinnacle of efficiency, harmony, and sustainability at the cost of our primitive nature, emotion, free will, and drive.

This book discusses how television is a steady stream of distraction that leads us further and further from fact and reality. News broadcasting showcases only attractive people who spew content intended for entertainment over truth. Ignorance and beauty are the superficial virtues people strive for and emotional reaction has taken the place of informed opinions. This book was published in 2005, so you can't help to notice that the status quo is becoming more extreme all the time. If nothing else, this book will open up a dialog for thought and discussion. ( )
  jasmataz | Sep 11, 2015 |
Although the world Postman writes about is a little dated, the book is still very thought provoking. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in media's effect (and especially television) on society. ( )
  ElOsoBlanco | Jul 15, 2013 |

It's amazing how well this book has stood the test of time. We are still amusing ourselves to death, though now we have a new medium, the Internet. Our world is even more fragmented, more information overload, but the Internet restores typography to an extent, in bite size chunks. I wonder what Postman would had thought of Twitter. ( )
  clmerle | Apr 2, 2013 |
Very prescient. Very scary. I've been saying all along that we live in a dystopian society in this country, and Postman's book gives me more proof. Fantastic read. ( )
  Jessica_Olin | Apr 1, 2013 |
Postman is right to point out that every non-natural tool of humankind, from the most sophisticated computer or medical imaging device to the alphabet and a hammer, is a piece of technology. It is rather moving to contemplate that there was a time when every non-natural thing we take for granted in our world, from simple pottery to the wheel was at one time the state-of-the-art. Postman warns us that all technologies are potentially harmful- the major specter brought by our cumulative increase in technological sophistication is an exponential increase in our capacity for destructiveness. Postman rightly posited that all technological change is "ecological, not additive": in Postman’s example of (and fascination with) television, the advent of the boob tube did not equal America plus television, it rendered an entirely different culture that buried our previous one.

It could be said with only some degree of abstraction that the wars that devastated Europe in the first half of the twentieth century were violent reactions fostered by a neurotic compulsion to deny the observations of individuals like Freud, but with different tactics. World War I was a war whose ideology was extremely old-fashioned and antiquated, and entirely untenable given the major advancements in knowledge being made with little or no awareness of the monarchies. Ironically, this war was fought with the most advanced weaponry to that time, albeit largely contained within humble trenches that magnified the destructiveness. Cultures that had failed to maturely adapt to the technological changes had gleaming tanks, massive howitzers, airplanes and machine guns utilized within a most primitive framework. Then, the next world war pushed the technology envelope far further, and couched it within fascism and national socialism, cousin ideologies that schizophrenically billed themselves as ultra-modern even as they peddled an intense nostalgia for an idealized past that never existed. The toxic combination of high technology and moribund, reactionary culture leads to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen.

What astonishes me is to contemplate how World War II narrowly delayed epoch-making technologies that were on tap, but shunted aside for war production. Can you imagine Hitler on television, or the death camps run by sophisticated bureaucrats with IBM mainframes and electronically-controlled railroad switching? Richard Nixon, generally regarded as an utterly uncompelling black hole of charisma, won a place in the hearts of middle America during the 1952 campaign when he came into their living room and earnestly talked about his daughters’ cocker spaniel. How much more thoroughly could Hitler have manipulated his countrymen and the world with such technological capability at his fingertips? (Or would his style have been too hot for a cool medium like television?) Conversely, what if the internet, video games, and 500-channel cable television had been mainstream in the early 1970s? Would the country have been as fixated on Watergate had their ability to tune in and drop out been comparable to ours in the present day? I believe that such exercises in counterfactual history can be more than parlor games if one considers how our world as it is now would be construed if we were not endowed with such technological advances.

Postman was an extremely thought-provoking media theorist. ( )
  markwinston | Mar 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
The dismal message of this landmark book is that, while we've kept our eye out for Orwell's world all along, we have smoothly moved into living in Huxley's. Through our own compliance, our implicit assent, and our endless desire to be entertained, we have allowed the television to behave as our soma and let happen unto us what, were it made an explicit part of the social contract, we would never have accepted. Orwell was a cartoon, while Huxley is our reality—and we don't even know it.
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We were keeping our eye on 1984.
You may get a sense of what is meant by context-free information by asking yourself the following question: How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?
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Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the Internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater significance. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment. It is also a blueprint for regaining control of our media, so that they can serve our highest goals.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140094385, Paperback)

A brilliant powerful and important book....This is a brutal indictment Postman has laid down and, so far as I can see, an irrefutable one. --Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:07 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Examines the effects of television on American society, arguing that media messages, which were generally coherent, serious, and rational when in print, have become shriveled and absurd due to the medium of television.

(summary from another edition)

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