Monday, June 19, 2006

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Thanks to Devona's recommendation, I read The Disappearance of Childhood, by Neil Postman, and thought it would also be a good time to go on and read Amusing Ourselves to Death, which was one of those books I had always thought I should read but never gotten around to reading. Both were essentially on different facets of the same theme: That the printing press, when it was the main way people talked about important things, encouraged logical, abstract thinking; a division between children and adults; a respect for the past and permanence; and reason and facts as the basis for public discourse. That, on the other side, now that television has taken over as the primary medium, those things are being replaced by everything--religion, politics, science, education--being presented as entertainment, because television is only good at putting on a show.

Some resulting thoughts:

* We aren't getting a television. Not that we were before. Of course, that only helps so much, because the rest of the world is still watching and it still drives the culture.

* The television approach to the world is seen in books, now, too. Many books are now television on the page: all images and tiny snippets of information, with no effort at continuity or logic. This is true of books for adults and even more so of educational books for children. I don't know that it's possible or necessary to avoid this entirely, but it's definitely making me more circumspect about what books I choose. Certainly some books benefit from a lot of images--it's hard to learn to identify birds from a paragraph about the lateral tail feathers. But many times the pictures are taking the place of giving the child the opportunity to think.

* What about the internet? This book predates it. The internet is a hybrid; it's definitely more print-driven than television, but I think it's still for the most part controlled by the television model. Pictures outweigh words. Immediacy outweighs permanence. We scan rather than ponder. The very ease of using it makes us careless about what we say. Still, it's not as naturally hostile to thought and words as television; it is readily used for such purposes as reproducing out-of-print books, publishing magazines and articles, and even occasionally actually responding to what someone else said instead of dueling in soundbites. So I'm still willing to use the internet, albeit more circumspectly. As Postman points out, just asking the question, "What does this medium do to the message?" defuses much of the danger.


Sharon said...

Wow-- that was well-put! I linked to this post on my blog.

Amey said...

I would really really like to read these two books as well. I also have an interesting book that *may* take up where Postman left off with talking about computers - Failure to Connect, by Jane M. Healy (also wrote Endangered Minds).

It's been awhile since I visited your blog, but just wanted to comment that my children LOVE the Sharonville Woods park (I think you mentioned this park sometime, somewhere).

Queen of Carrots said...

Yes, indeed! Isn't it fabulous?

I've read a couple of Jane Healy's books, but not that one. I'll have to look for it.