Amusing Ourselves to Death

It’s been thirty years since Neil Postman published his book by that title: Amusing Ourselves to Death.

Recently, I read through it a second time, having purchased the 20th Anniversary Edition ten years ago.

In the book, Postman argues quite convincingly how the Age of Television has all but ruined Americans ability to think in logical, coherent terms, given the fragmented nature of television’s influence and presentation of “information.”

Whereas at one time people actually had to read and think their way through the decisions of the day, stemming from the printed page, now it is all about disjointed and non-contextual images.

Society has become one big Trivia Pursuit endeavor, where many people honestly believe that they are educated or informed because they can spit forth “facts” about whatever with the best of any Jeopardy player.

But, rather than regurgitate what Postman wrote, let’s bring his thesis up to date and see how it applies today.

It seems that just about everybody has some kind of electronic gadget, most of which cost an arm and a leg to possess and really do nothing but addict the possessor to endless streams of nonsense.

Oh, it’s not that the gadget fails to keep some in contact with others for personal or business reasons.

It’s not that the gadget has not help to efficiently replace the printing press or the electric typewriter.

It’s that for the most part, meaningful contact and typing meaningful content takes a huge back seat to the real purpose for iPhones, Androids, Macs, PCs, and the like, which is to keep us amused or entertained.

With the discovery that so much of what is published online is “fake news,” or more like, irrelevant “news,” owners of what amounts to hand-held television sets can stay plugged in to the latest fakery, and it doesn’t bother them one bit.

In fact, just the opposite occurs. Without so much as a critical thought, falsehoods are posted on individual social accounts and then “shared” with others on innumerable “friends lists,” so that they can keep the chain of lies and distortions going.

It is this kind of blithering nonsense that keeps us amused that is also leading to a culture of death—and we like it!

Well, we like until we start asking questions about what can be done to remedy our problems, whether they be fictional or real.

Then, we wander around being depressed, not knowing what to do, as we throw up our hands in despair.

The reality is, much, if not most, of the self-destruction is due to our own addiction to amusement.

With the advent of television many years ago, that now is portable enough to take with us anywhere, society began the slide into stupidity that effects nearly everything.

Society has been successfully programed to accept 20-second sound bites, continuous video clips, and carefully edited commentary as the standard of truth for any given story, situation, or event.

Anything longer is considered boring or irrelevant, since information or truth is to be amusing and entertaining.

When a person is amused or entertained, then that person feels good about him- or herself, and when everyone is feeling good, then more product is sold, policy is established, and interfaith dialogues can be established.

The reality, though, is that society is dying a slow, arduous death of its own doing.

It is tantamount to the analogy of the frog gradually dying in a pot of slowly heated water.

While the frog initially felt comfortable, when the water finally reached a boil, it was too late and it died.

Sadly, years and years of reinforcement seems to have sealed our demise.

We love our gadgets and we are not going to see them for what most of them really are–instruments of social deconstruction–and we are not giving them up either!

In that respect, Americans do not have to worry about ISIS, the Russians, the Chinese, or whomever taking over through some kind of external attack or warfare.

Americans are willfully, contently, and happily handing themselves over to their enemies through a seemingly endless parade of amusements.

It makes a person wonder if a majority of Americans will even know that their country is gone one day, given that much of it is already gone and they do not notice, given their addicted concentration upon checking their email or Twitter accounts.

Let’s just hope they will be equally amused to bow toward Mecca, work for the state, or speak Mandarin.

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