Amusing Ourselves to Death
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Alec Ross, Former Senior Advisor for Innovation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton & author of “Industries of the Future” recently suggested his top reading recommendation for understanding the current state of the media and politics in America. “Amusing Ourselves To Death”, written by Neil Postman in 1985 could apply to today’s bewildering Presidential nomination campaign. That it is still a very poignant book shows the strength of Postman’s insights into the culture of political discourse. Thankfully Postman’s son Andrew republished the book in 2005 with a strong belief that much of the book would apply to current times.
“Amusing Ourselves to Death” outlines the role of television in our presidential debates, political and cultural education. Today, digital and social media dominate over television, shortening sound bites and attention spans even more so. Postman forecasted the ever expanding cultural mindset of being amused and seeking amusement. It now seems that even our presidential campaign has become a form of amusement.
The citizens in Aldous Huxley's ''Brave New World” were captivated by happy mindlessness. Huxley wrote: ’’When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, 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; culture-death is a clear possibility.'' Huxley also feared that what we love will also ruin us. The domination of mobile devices and endless distractions at our disposal come to mind.
Postman put Huxley up against Orwell’s 1984 tagging that “Amusing Ourselves to Death” is a book about the possibility that Huxley was more on target in predicting the future than Orwell. Postman also quotes Alexi de Tocqueville and Thomas Paine. All are worth re-reading.
Suggested reading list:
Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
1984 by George Orwell
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr
Industries of the Future by Alec Ross