Published on: 2021-07-26
I just finished the book Amusing Ourselves to Death from Neil Postman. I've tried to read it probably 2 years ago and for an unknown reason, it felt in oblivion. Half way in, I want to slap me in the face to have put it aside in the first place.
The book is revealing about our daily life, consumed by technology and how we are actually told to think. As Aldous Huxley mentioned in Brave New World, we should really fear ourselves. We love to be entertained, even when the subjects are nothing to laugh at. Politics, environment, our future as human kind, etc. "People will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think." as Neil Postman wrote on the foreword of the book.
About technology as a whole:
What do you think people/society should be doing to try to anticipate the negatives and be able to do something about them?
I think every one should be sensitive to certain questions. For example, when confronted to a new technology (weither it is a cellular phone or a high definition television, cyberspace or Internet), one question should be: what is the problem to which this technology is a solution? And the second question would be: whose problem is it actually? And the third question would be: if there is a legitimate problem here that is solved by the technology, what other problems will be created by my using this technology? [...] Am I using this technology or is it using me? [...] In a technological culture it is very easy to be swept up in the enthusiasm for technology [...]
The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of consumers of products. Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country - these tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer. And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research. The television commercial has oriented business away from making products of value and toward making consumers feel valuable, which means that the business of business has now become pseudo-therapy. The consumer is a patient assured by psycho-dramas. (p.128)About big data, written in 1985:
Thus, a central thesis of computer technology -that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data- will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved. (p.161)
About being entertained instead of informed:
[Aldous Huxley] was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did now know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking. (p.163)Bottom line is: Neil Postman was ahead of his time, warning us about the distraction that technologies bring us. He focused on television on this specific book, but it is actually broader than that. Every single electronic devices comodifies our existence, thus we don't consider the side effects, aka being entertained all the time, turning off our brain and our creativity. I feel that human beings are getting away from the concept of being a human being. References: