September 2017 – Neil Postman – Amusing Ourselves to Death

A discussion of two of Neil Postman’s books: (all book title links are to Amazon.ca)

  • Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), which, in its analysis of the effect of television on the degradation of public discourse in the USA, starkly foreshadowed the arguably sorry state of American politics and culture today. Postman’s premise is that television’s inherent bias, its inability to convey information in the contextualized, coherent, rational way possible with print media, impacts negatively on the culture’s intellectual and social preoccupation.
  • Technopoly (1993), in which Postman extends his analysis to technology in general, arguing that North America is a “technopolist” society, one in which technology has gained control over the culture. New (and existing) technologies are not properly subject to scrutiny. He suggest 7 questions that should be applied continuously to any technology
  1. What is the problem to which the technology is the solution?
  2. Whose problem is it?
  3. What persons and institutions might be most harmed by the adopotion of the ‘solution’?
  4. What new problems might be created?
  5. What people/institutions might acquire special economic or political power from the ‘solution’?
  6. What changes in language result from the ‘solution’, and what are the ramifications?
  7. What will the ‘solution’ undo?

In both books he proposes enhancements in education, applicable from primary school and up, to help counteract the impact of technological determinism:

  • Teach the relationship between language and reality;
  • Teach the scientific outlook, including the philosophy of science;
  • Teach about technology – not only how it works, but its psychological, social and political effects;
  • Teach comparative religion;
  • Teach every subject as history, giving context;
  • Stress the arts, especially of the past.

Other books mentioned:

Recent magazine articles about Postman: