Are we ‘amusing ourselves to death?’

I just finished the book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” by Neil Postman, and let me tell you, it’s not a light read.  A quick read yes, a light read no. It’s thought provoking and profound.  Although I don’t agree fully with all of the author’s philosophies, he does make you think about our culture from a different perspective.  In the age of social media (Twitter and Facebook) and a culture based around imagery, sound bites and ‘drama,’ this book will get you thinking about epistemology; more importantly, media as epistemology.  It’s a great read and one I’d recommend to everyone – especially marketers.  As we are early adopters of technology and new media, we owe it to ourselves and others to utilize them in a smart, thoughtful and intelligent way.

So between blog posts and tweets, pick up a book – preferably this one.  Still not sure if you want to dive in?  If nothing else, read the ‘foreward’ that follows. It’s powerful and succinct, and it alone will make you think.

FOREWARD: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

–We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever 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 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 1984, 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.–

As a consumer of “infotainment” and a professional in the communications field, I have a great appreciation of our media, yet I do continue to question how a nation who gets its news and knowledge in sound bites will affect our culture.

2 Comments
  1. Robert
    September 1, 2009

    As a reader of both Huxley and Orwell, I completely agree that we (as a collective) are more likely to be restrained by pleasure and fancy than pain and fear. The human race has a long history of struggling against oppression and on a long enough timeline the survival rate for all empires falls to zero. What we don't have, which therefore poses a greater threat, is a plan for defense against apathy, distraction and ignorance (especially when all of these things are self inflicted).

    No one ever assumes that they are holding themselves prisoner, and that may be exactly what we are doing.

  2. Jasmin Bredahl
    May 7, 2010

    It's good to see an interesting article about Twitter and social networking every now and again. Nice one, ta for an excellent read!

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