Neil Postman: Amusing Ourselves To Death

The Typographic Mind:  “…the capacity to comprehend lengthy and complex sentences aurally.”

The Peek-A-Boo World:  The invention of the telegraph made possible, for the first time, people to get lots of information every day which they need do nothing about. This is Postman’s central, most useful concept, what he calls the “information-action ratio”.   The information revolution  began in the 1840’s then, because the new medium was suited to breaking up exposition into factoids.   Most of his subsequent criticism of our television culture is simply an extension of this observation about a tipping point in a ratio — not in a supposed antinomy between pictures and words, which is what Postman spends the rest of the book embroiled in.

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“Although one would not know it from consulting varous recent proposals on how to mend the educational system, this point – that reading books and watching television differ entirely in what they imply about learning – is the primary educational issue in America today.”

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Three education crises in the history of the world:  5th century BC, when Athens transitioned from oral to written culture (to understand it, read Plato); 16th century AD, when Europe invented the printing press (to understand it, read John Locke); and now, centered in America, and the question of television.

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Postman:  Orwell predicted the end of thought through an imposition from an oppressive external power.  Thought will die from constraint of truth.   Huxley predicted the opposite; thought will die in an environment where truth is not constrianed at all.  Postman says Huxley, not Orwell, got it right:  Big Brother will not watch us; we will watch him, voluntarily.

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