NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Saturday, November 28, 2009


by Neil Postman

"Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right." (Foreword, p.xx)

"Television has habituated us to visual entertainment measured out in spoonfuls at a time. But what happens when we come to expect the same things from our politics and public discourse? What happens to journalism, education, and religion when they too become forms of show business? Twenty years ago Neil Postman's lively polemic was the first book to consider the way that electronic media were reshaping our culture. Now, with TV joined by the Internet, cell phones, cable and DVDs, Amusing Ourselves To Death carries even greater significance. Elegant, incisive, and terrifically readable, it's a compelling take on our addiction to entertainment." (From the back cover of the Penguin Books 20th Anniversary Edition.)

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business is over twenty years old and is just as relevant today as it was when it was written. While television may no longer be our focus, Neil Postman's ideas and theories regarding the Age of Entertainment hold strong regardless of the technology. Anyone who feels bombarded by inane "information" and tired of sensationalism will love this book.

I'm always amazed when I read things like this to find so much of myself in them, how much I suddenly recognize my own ignorance or complacency. I like to think I'm a fairly smart cookie, and admitting how easily I can be manipulated is jarring. On the upside, I can now put my finger on some of the things that have been bothering me lately and make changes in my own life to help me live more in line with my personal beliefs.

Postman is not a Luddite and acknowledges that there are really great things about modern technology, but one of his final points was to remember that much of what we are seeing and reading has become entertainment. Remember to always ask questions about what you see, read and hear. "To ask is to break the spell." (p. 161)

Additional quotes from Amusing Ourselves To Death:

"A technology . . . is merely a machine. A medium is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates." (p. 84)

"The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether." (p. 87)

"[I]n saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?" (p. 108)

A wonderful and current companion to this book would be the article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" by Nicholas Carr (The Atlantic, July/August 2008), which includes discussion regarding the effects of technology on our ability to concentrate. This article is also included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009, which I talked about earlier this month.


Amy said...

This is a book I really want to read! I'm glad to see it was worthwhile. ;)

Thomas Hogglestock said...

I find this a very interesting topic. As much as I want to agree with the general thesis, however, I think that people have always wanted to amuse themselves to death, and I don't think the medium really has much to do with it. I think that people who seek real information will find it and those that don't seek it won't find it. As long as newspapers have been around they have tried to gin up sales by focusing on the stories that are scandalous and salacious or heartwarming, or gossipy (i.e., entertaining).

But, I haven't read this book so maybe he has something in there to refute my point of view.

I think it is also interesting to think about entertainment shows like the Daily Show that actually present news in a more truthful balanced way than so-called news programs.

Lezlie said...

Amy ~ It absolutely is worthwhile. I hope you have a chance to read it!

Thomas ~ I believe you are correct. Technology has just made it even easier to do. You still might find the book interesting. It's fascinating to read his 1980s theories and see how many of them have come to vivid life in the new century. I can't say I whole-heartedly agreed with every point he made, such as computers are an overrated technology, but I have to admit that with me he was pretty much preaching to the choir, so I loved it. :-)

I completely agree with your point regarding the Daily Show and others like it. But they also encourage their viewers to ask questions about what they're seeing and hearing, so they fall into line with what this book recommends.


Rebecca Reid said...

I totally agree with the Goolgle article -- I remember seeing it last year and agreeing then to. I'm always distracted by email and twitter and what not.

This book sounds fascinating! I'm trying to keep myself more balanced with the technology in my life. As you suggest, for me it's not TV but the internet.... (Case in point, I'm here right now)

Lezlie said...

Rebecca ~ I think you would really enjoy this book. Despite its age, it gives the reader sooo much to think about! I'm not at all a techno-junkie, but I *am* guilty of the entertainment-induced short attention span in many situations. Now that I recognize it for what it is, I'm working to turn that around.