Television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs. In this eloquent, persuasive book, Neil Postman alerts us to the real and present dangers of this. Originally published in , Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public. Compre o livro Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business na beijuaganette.gq: Formato: eBook siteCompra verificada.
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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman. Read online, or download in secure EPUB format. Where are we to find objective corroboration that read- ing Amusing Ourselves to Death in , in a society that worships TV and technology as ours does. Editorial Reviews. Review. “I can't think of a more prophetic, more thoughtful, more necessary site Store · site eBooks · Humor & Entertainment.
But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.
Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions".
In , Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.
This book could easily have been a manifesto calling on all Americans to unplug their television sets and, in true rock star fashion, throw them out of the window. For example, we may live in an age where a black man can become president, but do you imagine for a minute that an overweight man of any colour could? About a year ago, I guess, I read a book called Fooled by Randomness which advised people to not read newspapers every day for financial information as the daily swings in the stock market were essentially random and therefore meaningless and so the explanations for these swings provided by the newspapers were only more so.
This has had me thinking about the value of most of what I read in newspapers now. This book is set to make this problem of mine even worse. He gives a fascinating account of the development of news since the telegraph and how the telegraph in particular changed the world. Yes, there are all of the standard points about the telegraph as a boon — it made the world a much smaller place and helped create the global village.
There's no one who ex- presses an idea — certainly no politician — who wouldn't take that number. Of course, students had criticisms of the book, too.
Many didn't appreciate the assault on television — a companion to them, a source of pleasure and comfort — and felt as if they had to defend their culture.
Some considered TV their parents' Introduction to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition xii culture, not theirs — they are of the Internet — so the book's the- ses were less relevant. Some thought my father was anti-change, that he so exalted the virtues fostered by the written word and its culture, he was not open to acknowledging many of the positive social improvements TV had brought about, and what a demo- cratic and leveling force it could be.
Some disagreed with his as- sessment that TV is in complete charge: A common critique was that he should have offered solutions; you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, after all, so what now? And there was this: Yeah, what he said in had come startlingly true, we had amused ourselves to death One professor uses the book in conjunction with an experi- ment she calls an "e-media fast. When she an- nounces the assignment, she told me, 90 percent of the stu- dents shrug, thinking it's no big deal.
But when they realize all the things they must give up for a whole day — cell phone, computer, Internet, TV, car radio, etc. She ac- knowledges it will be a tough day, though for roughly eight of the twenty-four hours they'll be asleep. She says if they break the fast — if they answer the phone, say, or simply have to check e-mail — they must begin from scratch. But no matter how much they hate abstaining, or how hard it is to hear the phone ring and not answer it, they take time to do things they Introduction to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition xiii haven't done in years.
They actually walk down the street to visit their friend. They have extended conversations.
One wrote, 'I thought to do things I hadn't thought to do ever. Some are so affected that they de- termine to fast on their own, one day a month. In that course I take them through the classics — from Plato and Aristotle through today — and years later, when former students write or call to say hello, the thing they remember is the media fast. Amusing Ourselves to Death is a call to ac- tion. It is, in my father's words, "an inquiry.
It is an exhortation to do something. It's a counterpunch to what my father thought daily TV news was: His book urges us to claim a way to be more alert and engaged. His ideas are still here, he isn't, and it's time for the reins to be grabbed by those of a new generation, natives of this brave new world who un- derstand it better.
Twenty years isn't what it used to be. Where once it stood for a single generation, now it seems to stand for three. Every- thing moves faster. A lot has changed since this book appeared.
News consump- tion among the young is way down. Network news and enter- tainment divisions are far more entwined, despite protests some genuine, some perhaps not by the news divisions.
When Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, went on CNN's Crossfire to make this very point — that serious news and show business ought to be distinguishable, for the sake of public discourse and the republic — the hosts seemed incapable of even understanding the words coming out of his Introduction to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition xiv mouth. The sound bite is now more like a sound nibble, and it's rare, even petulant, to hear someone challenge its absurd insubstantiality; "the question of how television affects us has receded into the background" Dad's words, not mine, from Fox News has established itself, and thrived.
Corporate conglomeration is up, particularly among media companies. Our own media companies don't provide truly gruesome war images as part of the daily news, but then they didn't do so twenty years ago either though forty years ago they did.
The quality of graphics i. Communities exist that didn't, thanks to the Internet, particularly peer-to-peer computing. A new kind of collaborative creativity abounds, thanks to the "open source" movement, which gave us the Linux operating system. However, other communities are collapsing: Far fewer people join clubs that meet regularly, fewer families eat dinner to- gether, and people don't have friends over or know their neighbors the way they used to.
More school administrators and politicians and business executives hanker to wire schools for computers, as if that is the key to improving American ed- ucation. The number of hours the average American watches TV has remained steady, at about four and a half hours a day, every day by age sixty-five, a person will have spent twelve uninterrupted years in front of the TV. Childhood obesity is way up. Some things concern our children more than they used to, some not at all.
Maybe there's more hope than there was, maybe less. Maybe the amount is a constant. Substantive as this book is, it was predicated on a "hook": My father argued his point, persuasively, but it was a point for another time — the Age of Television. New technologies and media are Introduction to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition xv in the ascendancy.
His questions can be asked about all technologies and media. What happens to us when we be- come infatuated with and then seduced by them? Do they free us or imprison us? Do they improve or degrade democracy? Do they make our leaders more accountable or less so? Our system more transparent or less so?
Do they make us better citizens or better consumers? Are the trade-offs worth it? If they're not worth it, yet we still can't stop ourselves from em- bracing the next new thing because that's just how we're wired, then what strategies can we devise to maintain control?
My father was not a curmudgeon about all this, as some thought. It was never optimism he lacked; it was certainty. Nor did he fear TV across the board as some thought. Junk television was fine. As I recall, at one juncture, to illus- trate his point that our brief attention span and our appetite for Introduction to the Twentieth Anniversary Edition xvi feel-good content can short-circuit any meaningful discourse. Dad said, "For example, Ted, we're having an important discus- sion about the culture but in thirty seconds we'll have to break for a commercial to sell cars or toothpaste.
Koppel, one of the rare serious figures on network tele- vision, smiled wryly — or was it fatigue? Postman," he said, "it's more like ten seconds. Andrew Postman Brooklyn, New York November In If you were alert back then, this refresher may be unnecessary, even laughable. If you were not alert then, this may just be laughable. But it also may help to clarify references in the book about things of that moment.
In The United States population is million. Ronald Reagan is president. Ed Koch is mayor of New York City. David Garth is a top media consultant for political candidates. Televangelism is enjoying a heyday: Howard Cosell has recently retired after many years as TV's most rec- ognizable sports voice. Two of the most successful TV commercial cam- paigns are American Express's series about farflung tourists losing travelers' checks and Wisk detergent's spot about "ring around the collar" about which my father wrote a provocative and funny essay called "The Parable of the Ring Around the Collar".
People magazine ten. Ruth Westheimer hosts a popular radio call- in show, offering sex advice with cheer and grandmotherly frankness. African Americans are known as blacks. Martina Navratilova is the world's best female tennis player. Trivial Pur- suit is a top-selling board game. Certain entertainers to whom my father refers — e. Foreword We were keeping our eye on When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves.
The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wher- ever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another — slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their au- tonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think. What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.
What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would be- come a captive culture.
Huxley feared we would become a triv- ial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley re- xtx Foreword xx marked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distrac- tions.
In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. L The Medium Is the Metaphor At different times in our history, different cities have been the focal point of a radiating American spirit.
In the late eighteenth century, for example, Boston was the center of a political radi- calism that ignited a shot heard round the world — a shot that could not have been fired any other place but the suburbs of Boston. At its report, all Americans, including Virginians, be- came Bostonians at heart.
In the mid-nineteenth century. New York became the symbol of the idea of a melting-pot America — or at least a non- English one — as the wretched refuse from all over the world disembarked at Ellis Island and spread over the land their strange languages and even stranger ways.
In the early twentieth century, Chicago, the city of big shoulders and heavy winds, came to symbolize the industrial energy and dy- namism of America. If there is a statue of a hog butcher some- where in Chicago, then it stands as a reminder of the time when America was railroads, cattle, steel mills and entrepreneurial adventures.
If there is no such statue, there ought to be, just as there is a statue of a Minute Man to recall the Age of Boston, as the Statue of Liberty recalls the Age of New York. Today, we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot-high cardboard picture of a slot machine and a cho- rus girl.
For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of enter- tainment. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and 3 Amusing Ourselves to Death 4 commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice.
The result is that we are a people on the verge of amus- ing ourselves to death. One of his principal challengers in was once a featured player on television's most glamorous show of the 's, that is to say, an astronaut. Naturally, a movie has been made about his extraterrestrial adventure. Meanwhile, former President Richard Nixon, who once claimed he lost an election because he was sabotaged by make- up men, has offered Senator Edward Kennedy advice on how to make a serious run for the presidency: Al- though the Constitution makes no mention of it, it would ap- pear that fat people are now effectively excluded from running for high political office.
Probably bald people as well. Almost certainly those whose looks are not significantly enhanced by the cosmetician's art. Indeed, we may have reached the point where cosmetics has replaced ideology as the field of expertise over which a politician must have competent control. America's journalists, i. Most spend more time with their hair dryers than with their scripts, with the result that they comprise the most glamorous group of people this side of Las Vegas.
Al- though the Federal Communications Act makes no mention of it, those without camera appeal are excluded from addressing the public about what is called "the news of the day. American businessmen discovered, long before the rest of us, that the quality and usefulness of their goods are subordinate to the artifice of their display; that, in fact, half the principles of The Medium Is the Metaphor 5 capitalism as praised by Adam Smith or condemned by Karl Marx are irrelevant.
Even the Japanese, who are said to make better cars than the Americans, know that economics is less a science than a performing art, as Toyota's yearly advertising budget confirms. The Reverend Graham exchanged one-liners with Bums about making prepa- rations for Eternity. Although the Bible makes no mention of it, the Reverend Graham assured the audience that God loves those who make people laugh.
It was an honest mistake. He merely mistook NBC for God. Ruth Westheimer is a psychologist who has a popular ra- dio program and a nightclub act in which she informs her audi- ences about sex in all of its infinite variety and in language once reserved for the bedroom and street comers. She is almost as entertaining as the Reverend Billy Graham, and has been quoted as saying, "I don't start out to be funny. But if it comes out that way, I use it.
If they call me an entertainer, I say that's great. When a professor teaches with a sense of humor, people walk away remembering. But she has a point: It's great to be an entertainer. Indeed, in America God favors all those who possess both a talent and a format to amuse, whether they be preachers, athletes, entrepreneurs, politicians, teachers or journalists. In America, the least amusing people are its pro- fessional entertainers. Culture watchers and worriers — those of the type who read books like this one — will know that the examples above are not aberrations but, in fact, cliches.
There is no shortage of critics who have observed and recorded the dissolution of public dis- course in America and its conversion into the arts of show busi- ness. But most of them, I believe, have barely begun to tell the Amusing Ourselves to Death 6 story of the origin and meaning of this descent into a vast triv- iality. Those who have written vigorously on the matter tell us, for example, that what is happening is the residue of an ex- hausted capitalism; or, on the contrary, that it is the tasteless fruit of the maturing of capitalism; or that it is the neurotic af- termath of the Age of Freud; or the retribution of our allowing God to perish; or that it all comes from the old stand-bys, greed and ambition.
I have attended carefully to these explanations, and I do not say there is nothing to learn from them. And, in any case, I should be very surprised if the story I have to tell is anywhere near the whole truth.
We are all, as Huxley says someplace. Great Abbreviators, meaning that none of us has the wit to know the whole truth, the time to tell it if we believed we did, or an audience so gullible as to accept it.
But you will find an argument here that presumes a clearer grasp of the matter than many that have come before.
Its value, such as it is, resides in the directness of its perspective, which has its origins in observations made 2, years ago by Plato.
It is an argument that fixes its attention on the forms of human conversation, and postulates that how we are obliged to con- duct such conversations will have the strongest possible influ- ence on what ideas we can conveniently express. And what ideas are convenient to express inevitably become the impor- tant content of a culture.
I use the word "conversation" metaphorically to refer not only to speech but to all techniques and technologies that per- mit people of a particular culture to exchange messages. In this sense, all culture is a conversation or, more precisely, a corpora- tion of conversations, conducted in a variety of symbolic modes. Our attention here is on how forms of public discourse regulate and even dictate what kind of content can issue from such forms. To take a simple example of what this means, consider the The Medium Is the Metaphor 7 primitive technology of smoke signals.
While I do not know exactly what content was once carried in the smoke signals of American Indians, I can safely guess that it did not include philosophical argument.
Puffs of smoke are insufficiently com- plex to express ideas on the nature of existence, and even if they were not, a Cherokee philosopher would run short of either wood or blankets long before he reached his second axiom. You cannot use smoke to do philosophy. Its form excludes the content. To take an example closer to home: As I suggested earlier, it is implausible to imagine that anyone like our twenty-seventh President, the multi-chinned, three-hundred-pound William Howard Taft, could be put forward as a presidential candidate in today's world.
The shape of a man's body is largely irrelevant to the shape of his ideas when he is addressing a public in writ- ing or on the radio or, for that matter, in smoke signals.
But it is quite relevant on television. The grossness of a three-hundred- pound image, even a talking one, would easily overwhelm any logical or spiritual subtleties conveyed by speech. For on televi- sion, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words.
The emergence of the image-manager in the political arena and the concomitant decline of the speech writer attest to the fact that television demands a different kind of content from other media. You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content. To give still another example, one of more complexity: The information, the content, or, if you will, the ''stuff" that makes up what is called "the news of the day" did not exist — could not exist — in a world that lackecf the media to give it expres- sion.
I do not mean that things like fires, wars, murders and love affairs did not, ever and always, happen in places all over the world. I mean that lacking a technology to advertise them, people could not attend to them, could not include them in their daily business.
Such information simply could not exist as Amusing Ourselves to Death 8 part of the content of culture. This idea — that there is a content called "the news of the day" — was entirely created by the tele- graph and since amplified by newer media , which made it possible to move decontextualized information over vast spaces at incredible speed.
The news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination. It is, quite precisely, a media event. We attend to fragments of events from all over the world be- cause we have multiple media whose forms are well suited to fragmented conversation. Cultures without speed-of-light me- dia — let us say, cultures in which smoke signals are the most efficient space-conquering tool available — do not have news of the day.
Without a medium to create its form, the news of the day does not exist. To say it, then, as plainly as I can, this book is an inquiry into and a lamentation about the most significant American cultural fact of the second half of the twentieth century: This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas.
As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, educa- tion, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to tele- vision.
If all of this sounds suspiciously like Marshall McLuhan's aphorism, the medium is the message, I will not disavow the association although it is fashionable to do so among respect- able scholars who, were it not for McLuhan, would today be mute. I met McLuhan thirty years ago when I was a graduate student and he an unknown English professor. I believed then, as I believe now, that he spoke in the tradition of Orwell and Huxley — that is, as a prophesier, and I have remained steadfast to his teaching that the clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.
I might add that my inter- est in this point of view was first stirred by a prophet far more The Medium Is the Metaphor 9 formidable than McLuhan, more ancient than Plato. In study- ing the Bible as a young man, 1 found intimations of the idea that forms of media favor particular kinds of content and there- fore are capable of taking command of a culture. I refer specifi- cally to the Decalogue, the Second Commandment of which prohibits the Israelites from making concrete images of any- thing.
It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. We may hazard a guess that a people who are being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity would be rendered unfit to do so by the habit of drawing pictures or making statues or depicting their ideas in any concrete, icono- graphic forms. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking.
Iconography thus became blasphemy so that a new kind of God could enter a culture. People like ourselves who are in the process of converting their culture from word-centered to image-centered might profit by reflecting on this Mosaic injunction. But even if I am wrong in these conjectures, it is, I believe, a wise and particularly relevant supposition that the media of communication available to a cul- ture are a dominant influence on the formation of the culture's intellectual and social preoccupations.
Speech, of course, is the primal and indispensable medium. It made us human, keeps us human, and in fact defines what hu- man means. This is not to say that if there were no other means of communication all humans would find it equally convenient to speak about the same things in the same way.
We know enough about language to understand that variations in the Amusing Ourselves to Death 10 structures of languages will result in variations in what may be called "world view. We dare not sup- pose therefore that all human minds are unanimous in under- standing how the world is put together.
But how much more divergence there is in world view among different cultures can be imagined when we consider the great number and variety of tools for conversation that go beyond speech. For although cul- ture is a creation of speech, it is recreated anew by every me- dium of communication — from painting to hieroglyphs to the alphabet to television.
Each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orien- tation for thought, for expression, for sensibility. Which, of course, is what McLuhan meant in saying the medium is the message. His aphorism, however, is in need of amendment be- cause, as it stands, it may lead one to confuse a message with a metaphor.
A message denotes a specific, concrete statement about the world. But the forms of our media, including the symbols through which they permit conversation, do not make such statements. They are rather like metaphors, working by unobtrusive but powerful implication to enforce their special definitions of reality. Whether we are experiencing the world through the lens of speech or the printed word or the television camera, our media-metaphors classify the world for us, se- quence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, color it, argue a case for what the world is like.
As Ernst Cassirer remarked: Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man's symbolic activity advances. Instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself. He has so enveloped himself in linguistic forms, in artistic images, in mythi- cal symbols or religious rites that he cannot see or know anything except by the interposition of [an] artificial medium.
A person who reads a book or who watches television or who glances at his watch is not usually interested in how his mind is organized and controlled by these events, still less in what idea of the world is suggested by a book, television, or a watch. But there are men and women who have noticed these things, especially in our own times.
Lewis Mumford, for exam- ple, has been one of our great noticers. He is not the sort of a man who looks at a clock merely to see what time it is. Moment to moment, it turns out, is not God's conception, or nature's. It is man conversing with himself about and through a piece of machinery he created. In Mumford's great book Technics and Civilization, he shows how, beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers.
In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of nature is superseded. Indeed, as Mumford points out, with the invention of the clock. Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. And thus, though few would have imagined the connection, the inexorable ticking of the clock may have had more to do with the weakening of God's supremacy than all the treatises produced by the phi- Amusing Ourselves to Death 12 losophers of the Enlightenment; that is to say, the clock intro- duced a new form of conversation between man and God, in which God appears to have been the loser.
Perhaps Moses should have included another Commandment: Thou shalt not make mechanical representations of time. That the alphabet introduced a new form of conversation be- tween man and man is by now a commonplace among schol- ars. To be able to see one's utterances rather than only to hear them is no small matter, though our education, once again, has had little to say about this. Nonetheless, it is clear that phonetic writing created a new conception of knowledge, as well as a new sense of intelligence, of audience and of posterity, all of which Plato recognized at an early stage in the development of texts.
Philosophy cannot exist without criticism, and writing makes it possible and convenient to subject thought to a continuous and concen- trated scrutiny. Writing freezes speech and in so doing gives birth to the grammarian, the logician, the rhetorician, the histo- rian, the scientist — all those who must hold language before them so that they can see what it means, where it errs, and where it is leading.
Plato knew all of this, which means that he knew that writing would bring about a perceptual revolution: Indeed, there is a legend that to encourage such a shift Plato insisted that his stu- dents study geometry before entering his Academy. If true, it was a sound idea, for as the great literary critic Northrop Frye has remarked, "the written word is far more powerful than sim- ply a reminder: Anthropologists know that the written word, as Northrop Frye meant to suggest, is not merely an echo of a speaking voice.
It is another kind of voice altogether, a conjurer's trick of the first order. It must certainly have ap- peared that way to those who invented it, and that is why we should not be surprised that the Egyptian god Thoth, who is alleged to have brought writing to the King Thamus, was also the god of magic.
People like ourselves may see nothing won- drous in writing, but our anthropologists know how strange and magical it appears to a purely oral people — a conversation with no one and yet with everyone. What could be stranger than the silence one encounters when addressing a question to a text? What could be more metaphysically puzzling than ad- dressing an unseen audience, as every writer of books must do?
And correcting oneself because one knows that an unknown reader will disapprove 01 misunderstand? I bring all of this up because what my book is about is how our own tribe is undergoing a vast and trembling shift from the magic of writing to the magic of electronics. What I mean to point out here is that the introduction into a culture of a tech- nique such as writing or a clock is not merely an extension of man's power to bind time but a transformation of his way of thinking — and, of course, of the content of his culture.
And that is what I mean to say by calling a medium a metaphor. We are told in school, quite correctly, that a metaphor suggests what a thing is like by comparing it to something else. And by the power of its suggestion, it so fixes a conception in our minds that we cannot imagine the one thing without the other: Light is a wave; language, a tree; God, a wise and venerable man; the mind, a dark cavern illuminated by knowledge.
And if these Amusing Ourselves to Death 14 metaphors no longer serve us, we must, in the nature of the matter, find others that will. Light is a particle; language, a river; God as Bertrand Russell proclaimed , a differential equa- tion; the mind, a garden that yearns to be cultivated. But our media -metaphors are not so explicit or so vivid as these, and they are far more complex.
In understanding their metaphorical function, we must take into account the symbolic forms of their information, the source of their information, the quantity and speed of their information, the context in which their information is experienced. Thus, it takes some digging to get at them, to grasp, for example, that a clock recreates time as an independent, mathematically precise sequence; that writing recreates the mind as a tablet on which experience is written; that the telegraph recreates news as a commodity.
And yet, such digging becomes easier if we start from the assumption that in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes be- yond the function of the thing itself. It has been pointed out, for example, that the invention of eyeglasses in the twelfth century not only made it possible to improve defective vision but sug- gested the idea that human beings need not accept as final either the endowments of nature or the ravages of time.
Eye- glasses refuted the belief that anatomy is destiny by putting forward the idea that our bodies as well as our minds are im- provable. I do not think it goes too far to say that there is a link between the invention of eyeglasses in the twelfth century and gene-splitting research in the twentieth. Even such an instrument as the microscope, hardly a tool of everyday use, had embedded within it a quite astonishing idea, not about biology but about psychology.
By revealing a world hitherto hidden from view, the microscope suggested a possibil- ity about the structure of the mind. If things are not what they seem, if microbes lurk, unseen, on and under our skin, if the invisible controls the visible, then is it not possible that ids and egos and superegos also lurk some- where unseen? What else is psychoanalysis but a microscope of The Medium Is the Metaphor 15 the mind?
Where do our notions of mind come from if not from metaphors generated by our tools? What does it mean to say that someone has an IQ of 1 26? There are no numbers in peo- ple's heads. Intelligence does not have quantity or magnitude, except as we believe that it does. And why do we believe that it does? Because we have tools that imply that this is what the mind is like.
Indeed, our tools for thought suggest to us what our bodies are like, as when someone refers to her "biological clock," or when we talk of our "genetic codes," or when we read someone's face like a book, or when our facial expressions telegraph our intentions. When Galileo remarked that the language of nature is written in mathematics, he meant it only as a metaphor.
Nature itself does not speak. Neither do our minds or our bodies or, more to the point of this book, our bodies politic. Our conversations about nature and about ourselves are conducted in whatever "languages" we find it possible and convenient to employ. We do not see nature or intelligence or human motivation or ideol- ogy as "it" is but only as our languages are. And our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.
With this in view, my task in the chapters ahead is straightforward. I must, first, demonstrate how. Indeed, I appreciate junk as much as the next fellow, and I know full well that the printing press has generated enough of it to fill the Grand Canyon to overflowing. Television is not old enough to have matched printing's output of junk.
And so, I raise no objection to television's junk. The best things on television are its junk, and no one and nothing is seri- ously threatened by it.
Besides, we do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations.
The irony here is that this is what intellectuals and critics are constantly urging television to do. The trouble 16 Media as Epistemology 17 with such people is that they do not take television seriously enough. For, like the printing press, television is nothing less than a philosophy of rhetoric. To talk seriously about television, one must therefore talk of epistemology. All other commentary is in itself trivial. Epistemology is a complex and usually opaque subject con- cerned with the origins and nature of knowledge.
The part of its subject matter that is relevant here is the interest it takes in definitions of truth and the sources from which such definitions come. In particular, I want to show that definitions of truth are derived, at least in part, from the character of the media of com- munication through which information is conveyed.
I want to discuss how media are implicated in our epistemologies. In the hope of simplifying what I mean by the title of this chapter, media as epistemology, I find it helpful to borrow a word from Northrop Frye, who has made use of a principle he calls resonance. But the phrase, Frye continues, "has long ago flown away from this context into many new contexts, contexts that give dignity to the human situation instead of merely reflecting its bigotries.
Frye extends the idea of resonance so that it goes beyond phrases and sentences. A character in a play or story — Hamlet, for example, or Lewis Carroll's Alice — may have resonance. Objects may have resonance, and so may countries: Thus, Athens becomes a metaphor of intellectual excellence, wher- ever we find it; Hamlet, a metaphor of brooding indecisiveness; Alice's wanderings, a metaphor of a search for order in a world of semantic nonsense. I now depart from Frye who, 1 am certain, would raise no objection but I take his word along with me.
Every medium of communication, I am claiming, has resonance, for resonance is metaphor writ large. Whatever the original and limited context of its use may have been, a medium has the power to fly far beyond that context into new and unexpected ones. Because of the way it directs us to organize our minds and integrate our experience of the world, it imposes itself on our consciousness and social institutions in myriad forms.
It sometimes has the power to become implicated in our concepts of piety, or good- ness, or beauty. And it is always implicated in the ways we define and regulate our ideas of truth. To explain how this happens — how the bias of a medium sits heavy, felt but unseen, over a culture — 1 offer three cases of truth-telling. The first is drawn from a tribe in western Africa that has no writing system but whose rich oral tradition has given form to its ideas of civil law.
With no written law to guide him, the task of the chief is to search through his vast repertoire of proverbs and sayings to find one that suits the situation and is equally satisfying to both complainants.
That accomplished, all parties are agreed that justice has been done, that the truth has been served. You will recognize, of course, that this was largely the method of Jesus and other Biblical figures who, living in an essentially oral cul- ture, drew upon all of the resources of speech, including mne- monic devices, formulaic expressions and parables, as a means of discovering and revealing truth.
As Walter Ong points out, in Media as Epistemology 19 oral cultures proverbs and sayings are not occasional devices: They form the substance of thought itself. Thought in any extended form is impossible without them, for it consists in them. Can you imagine a bailiff asking a jury if it has reached a decision and receiving the reply that "to err is human but to forgive is divine"?
For the briefest moment, the judge might be charmed but if a "serious" language form is not immediately forthcoming, the jury may end up with a longer sentence than most guilty de- fendants. Judges, lawyers and defendants do not regard proverbs or sayings as a relevant response to legal disputes. In this, they are separated from the tribal chief by a media- metaphor. For in a print-based courtroom, where law books, briefs, citations and other written materials define and organize the method of find- ing the truth, the oral tradition has lost much of its resonance — but not all of it.
Testimony is expected to be given orally, on the assumption that the spoken, not the written, word is a truer reflection of the state of mind of a witness. Indeed, in many courtrooms jurors are not permitted to take notes, nor are they given written copies of the judge's explanation of the law.
Jurors are expected to hear the truth, or its opposite, not to read it. Thus, we may say that there is a clash of resonances in our concept of legal truth. On the one hand, there is a residual belief in the power of speech, and speech alone, to carry the truth; on the other hand, there is a much stronger belief in the authen- ticity of writing and, in particular, printing.
This second belief Amusing Ourselves to Death 20 has little tolerance for poetry, proverbs, sayings, parables or any other expressions of oral wisdom.
The law is what legislators and judges have written. In our culture, lawyers do not have to be wise; they need to be well briefed. A similar paradox exists in universities, and with roughly the same distribution of resonances; that is to say, there are a few residual traditions based on the notion that speech is the pri- mary carrier of truth.
But for the most part, university concep- tions of truth are tightly bound to the structure and logic of the printed word. But, of course, the written work matters most. In the case I have in mind, the issue of what is a legitimate form of truth-telling was raised to a level of consciousness rarely achieved.
Carried away on the wings of his elo- quence, the candidate argued further that there were more than three hundred references to published works in his thesis and Media as Epistemology 21 that it was extremely unlikely that any of them would be checked for accuracy by the examiners, by which he meant to raise the question.
Why do you assume the accuracy of a print- referenced citation but not a speech -referenced one? The answer he received took the following line: You are mis- taken in believing that the form in which an idea is conveyed is irrelevant to its truth.
In the academic world, the published word is invested with greater prestige and authenticity than the spoken word.
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What people say is assumed to be more casually uttered than what they write. The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author, reviewed by authorities and editors.
It is easier to verify or refute, and it is invested with an impersonal and objective character, which is why, no doubt, you have referred to yourself in your thesis as "the investigator" and not by your name; that is to say, the written word is, by its nature, addressed to the world, not an individual. The written word endures, the spoken word dis- appears; and that is why writing is closer to the truth than speaking. Moreover, we are sure you would prefer that this commission produce a written statement that you have passed your examination should you do so than for us merely to tell you that you have, and leave it at that.
Our written statement would represent the "truth. The candidate wisely said no more on the matter except to indicate that he would make whatever changes the commission suggested and that he profoundly wished that should he pass the "oral," a written document would attest to that fact.
He did pass, and in time the proper words were written. A third example of the influence of media on our epistemol- ogies can be drawn from the trial of the great Socrates. At the opening of Socrates' defense, addressing a jury of five hundred, he apologizes for not having a well-prepared speech. He tells his Athenian brothers that he will falter, begs that they not inter- rupt him on that account, asks that they regard him as they Amusing Ourselves to Death 22 would a stranger from another city, and promises that he will tell them the truth, without adornment or eloquence.
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Begin- ning this way was, of course, characteristic of Socrates, but it was not characteristic of the age in which he lived. For, as Soc- rates knew full well, his Athenian brothers did not regard the principles of rhetoric and the expression of truth to be indepen- dent of each other. People like ourselves find great appeal in Socrates' plea because we are accustomed to thinking of rheto- ric as an ornament of speech — most often pretentious, super- ficial and unnecessary. But to the people who invented it, the Sophists of fifth-century b.
Greece and their heirs, rhetoric was not merely an opportunity for dramatic performance but a near indispensable means of organizing evidence and proofs, and therefore of communicating truth. To the Greeks, rhetoric was a form of spoken writing. Though it always implied oral performance, its power to reveal the truth resided in the written word's power to display argu- ments in orderly progression.
Although Plato himself disputed this conception of truth as we might guess from Socrates' plea , his contemporaries believed that rhetoric was the proper means through which "right opinion" was to be both discovered and articulated.
To disdain rhetorical rules, to speak one's thoughts in a random manner, without proper emphasis or appropriate passion, was considered demeaning to the audience's intelli- gence and suggestive of falsehood.
Thus, we can assume that many of the jurors who cast a guilty ballot against Socrates did so because his manner was not consistent with truthful mat- ter, as they understood the connection.
The point I am leading to by this and the previous examples is that the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression. Truth does not, and never has, come un- adorned. It must appear in its proper clothing or it is not ac- knowledged, which is a way of saying that the "truth" is a kind Media as Epistemology 23 of cultural prejudice. Each culture conceives of it as being most authentically expressed in certain symbolic forms that another culture may regard as trivial or irrelevant.
Indeed, to the Greeks of Aristotle's time, and for two thousand years afterward, scien- tific truth was best discovered and expressed by deducing the nature of things from a set of self-evident premises, which ac- counts for Aristotle's believing that women have fewer teeth than men, and that babies are healthier if conceived when the wind is in the north. Aristotle was twice married but so far as we know, it did not occur to him to ask either of his wives if he could count her teeth.
And as for his obstetric opinions, we are safe in assuming he used no questionnaires and hid behind no curtains. Such acts would have seemed to him both vulgar and unnecessary, for that was not the way to ascertain the truth of things. The language of deductive logic provided a surer road. We must not be too hasty in mocking Aristotle's prejudices. We have enough of our own, as for example, the equation we moderns make of truth and quantification. In this prejudice, we come astonishingly close to the mystical beliefs of Pythagoras and his followers who attempted to submit all of life to the sov- ereignty of numbers.
Many of our psychologists, sociologists, economists and other latter-day cabalists will have numbers to tell them the truth or they will have nothing. Can you imagine, for example, a modern economist articulating truths about our standard of living by reciting a poem? Or by telling what hap- pened to him during a late-night walk through East St.
Or by offering a series of proverbs and parables, beginning with the saying about a rich man, a camel, and the eye of a needle?
The first would be regarded as irrelevant, the second merely anecdotal, the last childish. Yet these forms of language are cer- tainly capable of expressing truths about economic relation- ships, as well as any other relationships, and indeed have been employed by various peoples. But to the modern mind, resonat- ing with different media-metaphors, the truth in economics is believed to be best discovered and expressed in numbers.
Per- Amusing Ourselves to Death 24 haps it is. I will not argue the point. I mean only to call attention to the fact that there is a certain measure of arbitrariness in the forms that truth-telling may take.
We must remember that Gali- leo merely said that the language of nature is written in mathe- matics. He did not say everything is. And even the truth about nature need not be expressed in mathematics. For most of hu- man history, the language of nature has been the language of myth and ritual. These forms, one might add, had the virtues of leaving nature unthreatened and of encouraging the belief that human beings are part of it.
It hardly befits a people who stand ready to blow up the planet to praise themselves too vigorously for having found the true way to talk about nature. In saying this, I am not making a case for epistemological relativism. Some ways of truth-telling are better than others, and therefore have a healthier influence on the cultures that adopt them.
Indeed, I hope to persuade you that the decline of a print-based epistemology and the accompanying rise of a television- based epistemology has had grave consequences for public life, that we are getting sillier by the minute. And that is why it is necessary for me to drive hard the point that the weight assigned to any form of truth-telling is a function of the influence of media of communication. As a culture moves from orality to writing to printing to televising, its ideas of truth move with it.
Every philosophy is the philosophy of a stage of life, Nietzsche remarked. To which we might add that every epis- temology is the epistemology of a stage of media development. Truth, like time itself, is a product of a conversation man has with himself about and through the techniques of communica- tion he has invented. Since intelligence is primarily defined as one's capacity to Media as Epistemology 25 grasp the truth of things, it follows that what a culture means by intelligence is derived from the character of its important forms of communication.
In a purely oral culture, intelligence is often associated with aphoristic ingenuity, that is, the power to invent compact sayings of wide applicability. The wise Solomon, we are told in First Kings, knew three thousand proverbs. In a print culture, people with such a talent are thought to be quaint at best, more likely pompous bores.
In a purely oral culture, a high value is always placed on the power to memorize, for where there are no written words, the human mind must function as a mobile library. To forget how something is to be said or done is a danger to the community and a gross form of stupidity. In a print culture, the memorization of a poem, a menu, a law or most anything else is merely charming.
It is almost always func- tionally irrelevant and certainly not considered a sign of high intelligence. Although the general character of print-intelligence would be known to anyone who would be reading this book, you may arrive at a reasonably detailed definition of it by simply consid- ering what is demanded of you as you read this book.
You are required, first of all, to remain more or less immobile for a fairly long time.In a world of television and other visual media, "political knowledge" means having pictures in your head more than having words. Postman and his wise words. Minda yang dibentuk melalui penulisan typographic mind juga memberikan masa kepada pembaca untuk berfikir secara analitikal, mengesan falasi dalam logik, menyingkap segala bentuk generalisasi, menimbang idea-idea baharu dan menghubungkan ilmu-ilmu yang ada sebagaimana ahli-ahli astronomi menghubungkan bintang-bintang menjadi bentuk buruj-buruj tertentu.
Fox News has established itself, and thrived. A person who reads a book or who watches television or who glances at his watch is not usually interested in how his mind is organized and controlled by these events, still less in what idea of the world is suggested by a book, television, or a watch.
If reading books was ever important to you, read this book. Howard Cosell has recently retired after many years as TV's most rec- ognizable sports voice. And they were given little if no time to respond directly to another candidate. Typography made modern science possible but transformed religious sensibility into mere superstition. Jane Mayer.
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