According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, July 1, 2011

Neil Postman - Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business [Paperback]

by Neil Postman

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics); 20 Anv edition (December 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014303653X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036531

Neil Postman (March 8, 1931 - October 5, 2003) was an American author, media theorist and cultural critic, who is best known by the general public for his 1985 book about television, Amusing Ourselves to Death. For more than forty years, he was associated with New York University. Postman was a humanist, who believed that "new technology can never substitute for human values."

MORE ON NEIL POSTMAN - (excerpts below)


Postman was born and spent most of his life in New York City. In 1953, he graduated from State University of New York at Fredonia where he played basketball. He received a master's degree in 1955 and an Ed.D in 1958, both from the Teachers College, Columbia University, and started teaching at New York University (NYU) in 1959. In 1971, he founded a graduate program in media ecology at the Steinhardt School of Education of NYU. In 1993 he was appointed a University Professor, the only one in the School of Education, and was chairman of the Department of Culture and Communication until 2002. Among his students were authors Paul Levinson, Joshua Meyrowitz, Jay Rosen, Lance Strate, and Dennis Smith. He died of lung cancer in Flushing, Queens on October 5, 2003.[3]


Postman wrote 18 books and more than 200 magazine and newspaper articles for such periodicals as The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Time Magazine, The Saturday Review, The Harvard Education Review, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Stern, and Le Monde. He was the editor of the quarterly journal ETC.; A review of General Semantics (founded by S.I. Hayakawa in 1943) from 1976 to 1986. He was also on the editorial board of The Nation.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Postman's best known book is Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), a historical narrative which warns of a decline in the ability of our mass communications media to share serious ideas. Since television images replace the written word, Postman argues that television confounds serious issues by demeaning and undermining political discourse and by turning real, complex issues into superficial images, less about ideas and thoughts and more about entertainment. He also argues that television is not an effective way of providing education, as it provides only top-down information transfer, rather than the interaction that he believes is necessary to maximize learning. He refers to the relationship between information and human response as the Information-action ratio.

He draws on the ideas of media theorist Marshall McLuhan to argue that different media are appropriate for different kinds of knowledge, and describes how cultures value and transfer information oral, literate, and televisual in different ways. He states that 19th century America was the pinnacle of rational argument, an Age of Reason, in which the dominant communication medium was the printed word. During this period, complicated arguments could be transmitted without oversimplification.

Amusing Ourselves to Death was translated into eight languages and sold 200,000 copies worldwide.

Informing Ourselves to Death

Postman gave a well-known speech at the meeting of the German Informatics Society (Gesellschaft für Informatik) on October 11, 1990 in Stuttgart: [1]. He argues that our society relies too heavily on information to fix our problems, especially the fundamental problems of human philosophy and survival, that information, ever since the printing press, has become a burden and garbage instead of a rare blessing.

"But what started out as a liberating stream has turned into a deluge of chaos. If I may take my own country as an example, here is what we are faced with: In America, there are 260,000 billboards; 11,520 newspapers; 11,556 periodicals..." "...Everything from telegraphy and photography in the 19th century to the silicon chip in the twentieth has amplified the din of information, until matters have reached such proportions today that for the average person, information no longer has any relation to the solution of problems."

According to his speech, "the tie between information and action has been severed."

"Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one's status. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don't know what to do with it."

He also compares contemporary society to the Middle Ages, where instead of individuals believing in anything told to them by religious leaders, now individuals believe everything told to them by science, making people more naive than in Middle Ages. Individuals in a contemporary society, one that is mediated by technology, could possibly believe in anything and everything, whereas in the Middle Ages the populace believed in the benevolent design they were all part of and there was order to their beliefs.


In his 1992 book Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, Postman defines “Technopoly” as a society which believes “the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment ... and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts.” [4]

Postman argues that the United States is the only country to have developed into a technopoly. He claims that the U.S has been inundated with technophiles who do not see the downside of technology. This is dangerous because technophiles want more technology and thus more information.[5]However, according to Postman, it is impossible for a technological innovation to have only a one-sided effect. With the ever-increasing amount of information available Postman argues that: “Information has become a form of garbage, not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems.” [6]

In a 1996 interview, Postman re-emphasized his solution for technopoly, which was to give students an education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, so they may become adults who “use technology rather than being used by it”.[2]

Postman has been criticized by being called a Luddite, despite his statement in the conclusion of Amusing Ourselves to Death that "We must not delude ourselves with preposterous notions such as the straight Luddite position."[7]

The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School

Social critic Neil Postman has veered away from media and has shifted the focus back onto education. Postman states, "education without spiritual content or, (as he puts it), without a myth or narrative to sustain and motivate, is education without a purpose". Postman speaks strongly about the function of school being a democracy where different views are shared to help unite us. In Postman's view multiculturalism is a separatist movement that destroys American unity but on the other hand, he discusses teaching through diversity as an important theme that should be utilized in regard to teaching history, culture and language. Postman attempts to formulate new philosophies to help inform education and give to it an alternative voice.

The Disappearance of Childhood

In 1982's The Disappearance of Childhood, Postman argues that what we define as "childhood" is a modern phenomenon. He defines "childhood" as the period from around age 7 – when spoken language is usually mastered – to around age 17when written language is mastered. Not coincidentally, these ages correspond to the typical school years.

The word "child" originally meant "son or daughter"; only in modern times did it gain its second meaning - "a person between birth and full growth". Prior to modern times, children were considered "little" adults, rather than today's conception of them as "unformed" adults.

In medieval times, children and adults "lived in the same social and intellectual world" (36). Children dressed the same as adults, shared the same labor and past times (gambling was considered a normal childhood pursuit), and with literacy confined to special classes (the monks, for example) had similar intellectual levels. Few children attended school. Children weren't shielded from the harsh realities and shameful secrets of the adult world. Adults didn't conceal their sexual drives, nor was there a high level of “civilized” mores defining certain behavior, body functions and characteristics as distasteful. "Without a well-developed idea of shame, childhood cannot exist" (9). To Postman, the middle age's absence of literacy, education and shame explains their absence of our conception of childhood.

Postman credits the invention of movable type printing to the idea of childhood. With literacy came adult "secrets,” information available only to adults who could read. And literacy required schools to teach people how to read. "Because school was designed for the preparation of a literate adult, the young became to be perceived not as miniature adults, but as ... unformed adults": (41). These two factors created a new social hierarchy - adults now had "unprecedented control over the symbolic environment of the young" (45). For Postman, 1850-1950 was the "high-water mark of childhood. Children's birthdays began to celebrated, and their welfare became viewed as something special that needed protection. Children gained specialized clothing and literature - different from adults. Childhood became viewed as an idyllic time of innocence.

In 1950 came television and the disappearance of child. Television is an egalitarian dispenser of information. No longer were there adult realities and secrets - these were dispensed in news, commercials, and programs to people of any age. Childhood's innocence was lost and the idea of shame became "diluted and demystified" (85). Television, which became the dominant source of information (over books), requires no specialized learning, further diminishing the distinction between children and adults. Some television content adultifies and eroticizes children; some television infantilizes adults. Television has created a three-stage life cycle: infancy, adult-child, and senility (99).

He notes other changes that have also occurred since 1950 that have added to children becoming more like adults. Divorce, economic realities and women’s liberation have led to less nurturing of childrencitation?.

His evidence for the disappearance of childhood: the rise of crime perpetrated by and against children; the increase in sexual activity and drug/alcohol abuse in children; children and adults sharing musical tastes, language, literature, and movies (many big budget movies are comic books that would have been marketed solely to children years ago); the lack of differentiated clothing styles (little girls in high heels, grown men in sneakers). Even childhood games have been replaced by organized sports (Little League, Pee Wee, etc) which are more like adult sports. "Adulthood has lost much of its authority and aura, and the idea of deference to one who is older has become ridiculous" (133).

He makes a point that civilized behavior acknowledges our animal urges (sex, violence, etc) but makes them secrets that are kept hidden from children. Since they are no longer secrets, our society may become more barbarian. A case in point is foul language, which is no longer kept hidden from children, and has become more predominant everywhere.

While positing his theory, Postman offers no solution for society on the whole. Even as he wrote in times before before the widespread availability of the Internet, he acknowledged that there is probably no turning back from our visual, electronic age. Thus, he writes “Resistance entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture” (152).

  1. ^ verify?
  2. ^ a b c PBS Newshour Interview, 1996
  3. ^ New York Times Obituary: Neil Postman, October 9, 2003
  4. ^ (Postman, 1992. p.51)
  5. ^ Howard P. Segal, "Review", The Journal of American History, vol.79, no.4 (March 1993), p.1695-1697
  6. ^ Neil Postman, Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, (1992), p.69
  7. ^ Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, (1985)
  8. ^
  9. ^ Hu, Winnie (November 12, 2007). "Profile Rises at School Where Going Against the Grain Is the Norm". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2010.
  10. ^ From interview from PBS on MacNeil/Lehrer Hour (1995).
  11. ^ from The Disappearance of Childhood
  12. ^ Talk given at the German Informatics Society (Gesellschaft fuer Informatik) on October 11, 1990 in Stuttgart.
  13. ^ "Informing Ourselves to Death" (1990)
  14. ^ a b from the Neil Postman book "Amusing Ourselves To Death"
  15. ^ "Language Education in a Knowledge Context", 32.
  16. ^ From interview from PBS on MacNeil/Lehrer Hour (1995).
  17. ^ From interview from PBS on MacNeil/Lehrer Hour (1995).
  18. ^ In this speech, Postman encouraged teachers to help their students "distinguish useful talk from bullshit". He argued that it was the most important skill students could learn, and that teaching it would help students understand their own values and beliefs.

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