Neil Postman, professor, media theorist, and author of Amusing Ourselves to Death, presents a compelling narrative outlining the regression of society due to the progressing shift from the written word to mass media. Initially, Postman juxtaposes two literary pieces, George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s futuristic Brave New World. He compares Orwell’s view, in which government will slowly oppress society and deprive them of liberty, to Huxley’s, which suggests that we will create our own demise through over saturation in trivial matters and irrelevant information. As Postman summarizes, “Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us, Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.” Postman wrote this piece in 1984, and throughout he argues that Huxley was in fact correct over Orwell in his predictions for the future of society. Postman’s ideas are further evidenced today as an accurate prediction 20 years later.
The Huxleyan warning is that culture, in essence, will become burlesque. Books will be outlawed, and independent thinking will be voluntarily eliminated. Under Huxley’s interpretation, there will be no need for government to ban books, as the public will have no interest in reading. Societal focus will have shifted to self medication through media and entertainment. Culture at large will be consumed with trivial matters (taking 10 seconds to flip through the channels during any given hour today will assert the accuracy of this prediction) portrayed as important information. Serious or notable discourse will become virtually non-existent, and our culture will evolve into a joke. In my opinion, no one can compellingly counter the fact that American society has allowed television and digital media virtually complete sovereignty over all institutions, be they political, social or educational. The perilous result of this is that most see no issue with acceptance of this line of thinking, which is precisely what Huxley predicted, and Postman reiterated just 20 years ago.
Americans, comparatively speaking, tend to be the least informed, but undoubtedly the most entertained. News and politics lack quality as they are a form of entertainment from the medium of television. Although being informed is arbitrary, many would claim they are well educated through the news media, when in actuality they are merely ‘in the know’ on nothing more than celebrity gossip or the latest murder trial. Dismally, an alarming number of American’s have trouble answering rudimentary questions about their country and political system. Postman argues that the media of communication available to a culture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture’s intellectual and social quality.
I realize that some who read this may write these conclusions off as extremist and fanatical, which is understandable. However, I don’t think Huxley or Postman, nor myself for that matter, are advocating that media at large should be exchanged for purely text based forms of entertainment. This would be an irrational, unrealistic, and a virtually unattainable venture. Postman, however, does emphasize the need for consumers of mass media to understand the dangers involved in heavy reliance upon these sources for specific types of information. Television is best suited as a display of purely immaterial entertainment, but most dangerous when serving as a medium to deliver politics, science, education, etc.
I highly recommend this read for everyone; it influences ones line of thinking in a positive way, and encourages reconsideration of lifestyle decisions. I chose to review this book as my initial article, since the content has high relevance to what we as a group of individuals are doing with our free time; this blog! We are placing emphasis on the written word, and our initiative in this venture supports exactly what these books suggest, which self directed and continual learning.