February 25, 2015 by Isaac Hovet
I don’t usually finish books. Most books have made their point by about 75% in. But, I came to the last page of this book and was disappointed. I love Postman’s writing style and his message was alarming and incredibly prescient. I wanted more good food for thought.
Although written in 1984, his insights are so helpful for today.
He writes with refreshing alacrity and wit. Using succinct but powerful illustrations, he efficiently argues that our society’s ability to engage with intelligent discourse is eroding because the medium of our communication has degenerated from propositions and expositions to contextless images and emotion laden story telling.
He hints throughout the book that the computer will accentuate this troubling demise. I wonder what book he would now write. No doubt Twitter, Facebook and presumptuous bloggers (ouch) have added a new dimension of deluded discourse. Not only do we have a fragmented way of understanding and composing thoughts, but we each have the capacity to spew our ridiculousness around the world.
Underlying our frustrations with political, religious and cultural discourse in our country is the irritating reality that our national ability to intelligently exchange thought, ideas and rationale has dissipated to such an untenable state as to wonder if integrous and respectful discourse has ever existed.
America was founded by intellectuals, a rare occurrence in the history of modern nations. “The Founding Fathers,” he [Richard Hofstadter] writes, “were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics, and law to solve the exigent problems of their time .” A society shaped by such men does not easily move in contrary directions. We might even say that America was founded by intellectuals, from which it has taken us two centuries and a communications revolution to recover.
Postman paints an insightful and compelling backdrop to our current tragedy: too much incongruous and decontextualized information coupled with an epidemic of stunted skills to sort through the incoherence. What is to come? Probably many years of amusement while our society unnoticed slips into ever increasing banality.
Good thing we’ve got those two big oceans. They’ve provided quite a buffer for our supercilious culture to prance about in its own pile of confetti-like whims and dollar tree notions. Wearing cheap clothes and holding her quickly painted face high, Lady America continues to host the world party as a pretender. Lost is our intelligence and rationale and humble foundation. It’s been replaced by loud K-Mart specials and a rhetoric that seeks only to justify its own muddled state. We bow before degradation and label it progress. We roll out the red carpet for all manner of living and call it diversity or equality.
In what sort of culture does the trivial find footing to pull itself to the top of the heap? A culture that worships the frolicking god of amusement with all-too-willing sacrifices of intelligence and healthy discourse. More than astute, Postman was prophetic: rightly calling out the dangerous, but unstoppable effect image and video driven media has wreaked on our way of thinking.