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

by Neil Postman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,684631,925 (4.16)36
In this eloquent and persuasive book, Neil Postman examines the deep and broad effects of television culture on the manner in which we conduct our public affairs, on how "entertainment values" have corrupted the very way we think. As politics, news, religion, education, and commerce are given expression less and less in the form of printed or spoken words, they are rapidly being reshaped and staged to suit the requirements of television. And because television is a visual medium, whose images are most pleasurably apprehended when they are fast-moving and dynamic, discourse on television takes the form of entertainment. Television has little tolerance for argument, hypothesis, or explanation it demands performing art. Mr. Postman argues that public discourse, the advancing of arguments in logical order for the public good-once the hallmark of American culture-is being converted from exposition and explanation to entertainment.… (more)
  1. 40
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (jstamp26)
  2. 00
    Hate Inc.: Why Today’s Media Makes Us Despise One Another by Matt Taibbi (themulhern)
    themulhern: Neil Postman's book is so much better, but Matt Taibibi's is so much more recent. Neil Postman is more interesting, more educated, and avoids the wierd cheap shots and obscenities directed at person's I've never heard of that Matt Taibibi enjoys. I guess Taibibi's is worth it for the supporting facts, which apparently he has the inside scoop on.… (more)
  3. 11
    Loserthink: How Untrained Brains Are Ruining America by Scott Adams (themulhern)
    themulhern: There is a surprising amount of overlap between the views of the news that both books have.
  4. 00
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (themulhern)
    themulhern: Stephenson himself remarked that Anathem was a book about how people don't read books anymore. Moreover, there is a delightfully satirical sequence in which the characters are discussing serious things over food at a rest stop, and the narrator is repeatedly distracted by images on the speelies that are incoherent yet commanding. Later, the protagonist realizes that one of these images was relevant, and there is another bit of satire.… (more)
  5. 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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» See also 36 mentions

English (62)  Dutch (1)  All languages (63)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Basically, this book warns against consuming knowledge through the medium of television, because TV by nature presents knowledge as entertaining, fragmented, simple, and out of context. The author thinks TV offers excellent entertainment, but when TV offers knowledge, people who consume this knowledge are harmed because they become accustomed to processing knowledge that is entertaining and out of context. Their field of knowledge become restrained to those that can be presented through TV format.

The author thinks this danger of TV-format knowledge can be appeased through the audience being self aware of what danger they put themselves in when they consume television. I hope this is true.

I appreciate the author's discussion on how the speed of information transmission resulted in providing people a lot of information that appear important but are actually irrelevant to their lives. I agree with him that's why after we read/watch the news, the news stories we consume rarely prompt us to take any action or make any changes in our lives. It is dangerous to consume news as if it is entertainment.

This book is not very easy to read. It's not exactly scholarly but you do need to pay extra attention in order to comprehend what the author has to say. ( )
  CathyChou | Mar 11, 2022 |
Since I re-read both 1984 and Brave New World this year before reading this, I think the book packed an even more potent punch since it leaned upon both novels heavily for analogy.

This book should be required reading for every man, woman, and child in the United States of America.

Even though its polemic against television is dated, its assertions about the aforementioned medium can easily be applied to television's modern analogs/descendants: social media, video games, streaming, YouTube, etc.

As a teacher, I must say that the chapter discussing the inherent assumption of students to be 'entertained' particularly resonated with me! ( )
1 vote djlinick | Jan 15, 2022 |
This book was written in 198 bemoaning the lack of intelligent discourse in society. Neil Postman lays the blame on television. If he were alive today he would lay the blame on the internet; specifically the 'social' media aspects. It is a cautionary tale when it was published and was sadly ignored.
  BobVTReader | Nov 13, 2021 |
And why didn't I read this in graduate school? This is a brilliant, almost prophetic, study of the death of discourse. Thoughtful, academic, and worth your time. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
Postman brings a tremendous amount of insight and awareness to how technology has shaped us at a human level. I wish he were still alive to share his take on the technological trends of today. Much of what he says, though extremely pertinent then, is even more applicable now. ( )
1 vote joshcrouse3 | Sep 17, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 62 (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.
 
A lucid and very funny jeremiad about how public discourse has been degraded.
added by ArrowStead | editMother Jones
 
He starts where Marshall McLuhan left off, constructing his arguments with the resources of a scholar and the wit of a raconteur.
added by ArrowStead | editChristian Science Monitor
 
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.
added by ArrowStead | editWashington Post Book World, Jonathan Yardley
 
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We were keeping our eye on 1984.
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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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In this eloquent and persuasive book, Neil Postman examines the deep and broad effects of television culture on the manner in which we conduct our public affairs, on how "entertainment values" have corrupted the very way we think. As politics, news, religion, education, and commerce are given expression less and less in the form of printed or spoken words, they are rapidly being reshaped and staged to suit the requirements of television. And because television is a visual medium, whose images are most pleasurably apprehended when they are fast-moving and dynamic, discourse on television takes the form of entertainment. Television has little tolerance for argument, hypothesis, or explanation it demands performing art. Mr. Postman argues that public discourse, the advancing of arguments in logical order for the public good-once the hallmark of American culture-is being converted from exposition and explanation to entertainment.

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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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