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Amusing ourselves to death takes a look at the age of television and how it has affected discourse and argument across society. It starts by looking at various leaps forward in communication, such as the printing press and the telegram and moves into television. This book is absolutely fascinating and super thought provoking, I strongly recommend it to anybody who is passionate about engaging with others and staying informed of/about political happenings in society.
Top Lessons Learned
- The medium that something is communicated dictates the message that is communicated more so than the intention of the speaker/author.
- There is so much content available now that it's almost impossible for people to distinguish between serious issues and pure entertainment, especially when they are packaged and delivered in largely the same way.
- Television does not afford people the luxury of getting deep into a topic, the audience will always gravitate towards something that is more entertaining so the author of a message must break things down into short stylish clips.
- The internet is making all of this worse...much worse.
Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Television is a medium driven primarily through visuals so conversation occurs through images, not words.
- You cannot do political philosophy on television. Its form works against the content.
- The web is very similar in this regard.
Technological advancements have also changed the way we consume information via the media.
- News of the day still consumption wasn't possible before the telegraph.
- Mediums like the smoke signal or letters force a very specific type of communication.
The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation
- Each communication medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, for expression, for sensibility.
- The new technological mediums if communication today are changing the way that we think as they continue to become more embedded into our lives.
Cultures and their communications should be judged by the claims of what is significant and the discourse that follows.
The concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression.
- Spoken word is treated differently than written which is different than TV.
- It is imperative that communication within each medium be organized to leverage it's strengths and the implicit cultural biases that are within it.
- A good example of this is talking about economics through numbers.
As a culture moves from orality to writing to printing to televising, its ideas of truth move with it. Every philosophy is the philosophy of a stage of life, Nietzsche remarked. To which we might add that every epistemology is the epistemology of a stage of media development. Truth, like time itself, is a product of a conversation man has with himself about and through the techniques of communication he has invented.
The medium used to communicate controls (or heavily influences) the opinions expressed, the way in which discourse occurs, and the inclusion (or exclusion) of facts.
- One interesting example used in the book is a religious sect that Ben Franklin knew. They didn't want to express their truths in writing for fear it could be used against them.
In a culture dominated by print, public discourse tends to be characterized by a coherent, orderly arrangement of facts and ideas. The public for whom it is intended is generally competent to manage such discourse.
- This comes through in many things from religious debate, legal battles, and even sales person to customer interactions.
The television medium has elevated the importance of short and impactful messages.
- Imagery and short stories are king
- Context and historical facts are dying
Tyrants have long relied on entertainment as a means to passify those being ruled.
- Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton, published in 1737
- A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, published in 1746
This move towards television has prompted educators to attempt to turn their classrooms into entertainment, using imagery and storytelling among other things.
- Studies actually show that educating oneself through television segment their learning and have poor retention.
- Reading something has a far higher retention rate when tested against television.
Huxley and H. G. Wells believed that we are in a race between education and disaster, and wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For in the end, they were trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.
One of the most interesting things about this book was how it highlighted the change in religious and political discourse, once considered to be a very rigorous process and its current state of entertaining sound bytes.