Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is an interesting look at the way people engage and interact with the world.
I first read it six or seven years ago, before my eyeballs were fully opened to the magnitude of fake news and general non-truth-seekiness that pervades the world.
Somebody on Twitter mentioned in this week, since it’s pretty relevant to what’s happening in our world these days–the degeneration of civil discourse, people who are unable to converse beyond sound bites, the dissipation of nuance.
It’s on the docket to read again, but I figured it might be fun to write about what I remember about the book before rereading it. That way, we can see what stuck from the first time around. Or we can laugh at what I completely misremembered.
It’ll be fun! Like turning a book review inside out.
Here’s what I remember about Amusing Ourselves to Death:
- I think the main idea of the book was that because of television and other visual media, we are becoming a post-literate society. The primacy of the written word is giving way to the primacy of the image, which doesn’t allow for the precision and nuance that the written word does. (I’m reminded of emojis when I think of this.)
- Postman points out that many people are afraid of falling into a 1984-style linguistic dictatorship, but Postman sees our society going more the way of A Brave New World. People abandon the pursuit of truth in pursuit of feelings (“the feelies”) of their own volition.
- I remember Postman contrasting the ability of people in the past to hold long arguments in their memories with our short sound-bite attention spans now. I believe this was illustrated with the Lincoln-Douglass debates, and how both the debaters and the crowd needed to additional notes or written material to make their cases or keep up with the conversation.
- I remember disagreeing with him about something. I can’t recall if it was something about his tone (dang kids get off my lawn) or if it was something related to visual communication (because sometimes a diagram is more efficient in conveying information than a paragraph).
- But I do remember becoming very uncomfortable with the idea of seeking amusement or entertainment above all. So much is done now FOR THE LULZ, or in my case when I’m stuck at work, for the amusement-factor that I wonder if we’re losing an element of the serious and the sacred. Not totally sure it’s in the book, but definitely related.
I think that just about wraps it up.
Will report back in when I’ve reread the book.