Monday, August 10, 2009

Book Review: "Amusing Ourselves To Death" By: Neil Postman

Written almost two and a half decades ago, “Amusing Ourselves To Death” is a thought provoking analysis of how our advancement of technological devices that facilitate communication has affected our relationships and our ability to think. Although the author penned this book before the popularization of the internet, the points he makes are very relevant to today’s computer-saturated world.

One of the oft-repeated ideas of the book is the observation that the media has created a population that desires constant entertainment and showmanship. Neil Postman states: “It does everything possible to encourage us to watch continuously. But what we watch is a medium which presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual; that is to say, information packaged as entertainment.” The author perceptively opines that television broadcasts of the news are packaged like an entertainment show: The newscasters are required to have a certain glamorous look; News reports of serious incidents are insensitively sped through in a manner that allows the severity of the event to be ignored; Music is played before and after news show intermissions; and commercials interrupt what is supposed to be an important relaying of news. This set up trains human beings to emotionally and mentally dull weighty events. It also robs us of our empathy.

In “Amusing Ourselves To Death,” Neil Postman also brings up ponderings of how different and cohesive family and community life would be if the automobile, aircraft, mail system, and telephone was never invented. This is definitely worth contemplating.

As our communication devices increases the feasibility of long-distance communication, we are becoming more distant in our personal dealings with each other in a bevy of ways. We must consider if we will let modern day inventions become the instruments of “family suicide.” What we latch on to out of convenience may actually become an enemy of basic human bonding. This book is definitely a catalysis for the reader to think about this premise.

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