Amusing Ourselves To Death
Recently, a Facebook friend – and I cannot recollect now who it was (Avinash, was it you?) – had referred to the book “Amusing ourselves to death”. I had heard about this book from the 80s by Neil Postman but never got a chance to read it. Till today.
If you have even a remote interest in epistemology or for that matter, how – contrary to popular belief – the message is all in the medium, you have to read this book. A few years back, I had stopped watching TV news. My “aha” moment was when I realized that the big news of today virtually gets no mention a few days later. And it used to frustrate me that I never could figure out what happened in the end because the channels had moved on to yet another big news of the day. Eventually, I got frustrated of TV itself and gave up watching TV (other than NFL games).
This book does a marvelous job for me to understand why I was getting frustrated. It further goes to explain in a brilliant way how TV has made a complete spectacle out of politics, religion and such other basic precepts of civilization. A tell tale example of how emotional judgment has taken over intellectual analysis – contrasting the current sound bite debates on TV of our politicians versus the substantive written debates by Lincoln and Douglas. How TV, unlike reading, does not let you pause and think for a moment what you just heard and dwell on it at any length. Therefore how our concept of “knowledge” itself has changed.
It does a great job of also explaining how telegraph started us down the road getting inundated with irrelevant information. Today, on TV, if we were to write down all the things we heard on the news and ask ourselves, “So, what am I going to do different tomorrow, day after or even in the next year due to what I learnt”… it is virtually zero. In the name of “knowledge” of the vast global village, we don’t seek to know what is going on with our neighbors, folks down the street, kids in your kids’ school – things we might actually do something about!!
Wish I had read this book long time back.