January 04, 2012

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

My boss suggested this book to me and I decided to give it a try. It was really interesting, although a bit dated. It actually would be really interesting to see what Postman would have to say now.

Postman bases this book on the fact that television, and entertaining media in general, is going to be the "death" of American civilization. He argues that unlike the oratory presentations of the past and written word, new media that goes everywhere quickly is taking over the human mind and making our thinking corrupted. In history, before television, radio, the telegraph and other quick means of communication, hour long arguments and debates were normal. And they weren't dumbed down for the audience but rather prized for their complexity. Then there was the written word, in which so much can be expressed and is generally taken to be more valid than the oral word such as in agreements or contracts.

A very interesting notion that Postman shows is when he discusses Orwell and Huxley and their very different visions of the future through their dystopian books. He believes that while Orwell had a decent idea that maybe the world will be taken over by force one day, it seems more possible that Huxley's vision of the world being taken over through pleasure is much more likely. Humans like instant gratification and if entertained enough will forget why they do something or may not even realize when freedoms are taken away. Or care if they do notice. He argues that television is just a method of giving this instant gratification.

Like I said, this book was very dated but it still held some relevant truths. For instance, he barely touches on computers as they weren't a main media when this book was written. And I wonder if computers the way they are today would change his mind or just further enforce what he believes. Because with a computer there are both fast conversations yet also through the use of blogs and message boards longer discussions can be found that are much like books. And computers also offer books online giving them a revival of sorts. I do think that he is a bit of an alarmist. Anything in moderation is ok, its when we let it take over our whole lives that it becomes a trouble.

An interesting book and definitely worth a read. I love books so I am a big believer in the written word. But I also find a good use in the tv as background noise while doing other tasks so alas, I will maybe find myself succumbed to the mindlessness entertainment it provides.

Amusing Ourselves to Death
Copyright 1985
165 pages


  1. Completely agreed with you. Have you read Postman's 5 Ideas yet?

  2. I haven't, but it's just been added to the reading list. Thanks!