Amusing Ourselves To Death
In Chapter 1 of the novel, Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman, the concept of the “media metaphor” is introduced. Postman presents the idea that every civilization's “conversation” is hindered by the jaundice of the media it utilizes. He uses the term “conversation” in reference to the exchange of information and the ways in which it is exchanged. The forms of conversation affect what is convenient to express, therefore, what's conveniently expressed becomes the content of culture. To further demonstrate this concept, Postman presents the example of the unappealing image of overweight man running for president. If a man with an ugly body were to run for president, he would not be elected because he does not fit the ideal television image. His image has nothing to do with his political ideas, but in a time run by television, visual image reigns. Thus, the form of TV is inconvenienced by philosophy, therefore, political philosophy and television can not be mixed.
Towards the end of the chapter, Postman begins to discuss the creation of tools such as the clock, the alphabet, and eyeglasses. The concept being that a new tool has an idea that goes beyond the tool itself. For example, the clock; before the invention of the clock, time was simply an occurrence in nature measured by the sun and the seasons. After the clock, time became an occurrence measured by machines in seconds, minutes, and hours, changing humans into “time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers.”The overall idea being that we no longer see nature as itself, we see it as the media presents it to us.
In Chapter 2 of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman describes the idea that American public discourse was once coherent and rational and is now “dangerous nonsense.” He suggests that the media employed by a civilization will determine the way it defines the truth. The belief is that there is no universal way to determine what is the truth and what isn't but that the different forms of communication existing within a civilization, will contribute to identifying the truth. Postman then goes on to explain that every medium has a resonance, using the examples of a strictly oral African tribe, a paradox between spoken and written word in terms of a doctoral commentary, and the trial of Socrates. Each example stems from different cultures and different eras, therefore the mediums and technologies in which they receive the truth differ. Postman describes truth as a bias for each culture and then gives examples of our own biases such as our reliance on numbers to detect truth. Our reliance on numbers is such that we often think it the only way to determine economic truth. We rely too much on numbers for truth just as the ancients were too reliant on proverbs.
Postman is not saying that all means of defining truth are the same but that the media we use is imperative towards determining how we define it. Image is the primary medium for determining truth in modern times, such that we don't realize how image can be distorted. Society's cultural exchange is based primarily on image and we are limited in carrying and communicating it. In each of the cultures Postman described thus far, intelligence was defined in a different way. The strictly oral culture defined intelligence by the ability to memorize proverbs and the print culture defines intelligence through the ability to see past the shapes of the letters and words on the page in order to give them meaning and see logic in the argument. The principle concept of the chapter is that the medium civilization utilizes affects the means in which it obtains truth.
“...until well into the nineteenth century, America was as dominated by the printed word and an oratory based on the printed word as any society we know of... As Richard Hofstader reminds us, America was founded by intellectuals, a rare occurrence in...
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