Written in 1984, this book takes a critical view of the impact of television
on us and our culture, i.e. that of the western world, specifically that of Americans. The author, Neil Postman,
Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at New York University, says in the prologue:
When a population becomes attracted by trivia, when a cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of
entertainment, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their
public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk.
In contrast to typography (=the printed word), which dominated our thinking and life from the invention of the printing press (end of 15th century)
until the end of the 19th century, telegraphy, photography and television put an end to the people's abilty
of coherent and inferential thinking, as all the latter three media inventions thrive on incoherence, irrelevance and impotence.
The point of photography and television is to isolate images from context. The two forms of media are a world of fact, not of dispute
about facts or of conclusions to be drawn from them.
For many Americans seeing, not reading became the basis for believing. This is so disadvantageous because it lies in the nature of television/pictures
that they must suppress the content of ideas as people like to be entertained by pictures and not by complex discourse.
Postman argues that people have become so accustomed to being entertained that even otherwise 'serious' institution
have tried to accomodate people's visual and acoustic interests. Why else does a Catholic priest from Chicago mix his religious teaching
with rock 'n' roll music? Or why else do courtrooms allow TV to broadcast trials? Classrooms, boardrooms,
airplanes and all kind of churches also try to attract people by taking advantage of television. Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other.
The result is that if eg. you want to be a 'good' teacher, you'll have to be a good entertainer first in order
to be accepted by students. Knowledge and pedagogics are only of secondary importance. But education through entertainment
cannot be achieved, as it is meant to amuse, but not to have long-lasting effects on children's education.
Stories and ideas are immediately made accessible by telelearning without endurance, sequence of learning or perseverance on the child's side.
Postman accuses television as a medium that 'presents information in a form that renders it simplistic, non-substantive,
non-historical and non-contextual'.
The average teenager will have watched 16,000 hrs of television by the time he leaves high school (at the age of 17).
What negative consequences this has on people's knowledge, their ability to be critical and even on the culture of a whole
nation is what Postman wants to bring across to his readers. Say hello to the Huxleyan world...