“Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman

How often does it occur that information provided you on the morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? … But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action.

Prior to the age of telegraphy, the information-action ratio was sufficiently close so that most people had a sense of being able to control some of the contingencies in their lives. What people knew about had action-value. In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost, precisely because the whole world became the context for news. Everything became everyone’s business. For the first time, we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right to reply.

We may say then that the contribution of the telgraph to public discourse was to dignify irrelevance and amplify impotence. But this was not all: Telegraphy also made public discourse essentially incoherent. It brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention. The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it.

The telegraph is suited only to flashing messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.

The telegraph introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headline – sensational, fragmented, impersonal. News took the form of slogans, to be noted with excitement, to be forgotten with dispatch. Its language was also entirely discontinuous. One message had no connection to that which preceded or followed it.

But what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience.

Nonetheles, everyone had an opinion abotu this event, for in America everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when the pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different order from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week. What is happening here is that tv is altering the meaning of “being informed” by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that TV news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the TV news entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic info. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?

There is an irony in the fact that the very group that has taken the world apart should, on trying to piece it together again, be surprised that no one notices much, or cares.

The danger is not that religion has become the content of tv shows but that tv shows may become the content of religion.

Those who would be gods refashion themselves into images the viewers would have them be.

We seem to know everything about the last 24hrs but very little of the last 60 centuries or the last 60 years.

We have less to fear from gov. restraints than from TV glut

TV clearly does impair the student’s freedom to read, and it does so with innocent hands, so to speak. TV does not ban books, it simply displaces them.