Monday, February 18, 2013

Negative Neil

One of the most annoying things about Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death is his absolute negativity towards, well, everything it seems, except for the never at fault written world. He blasts the telegraph, photography, and television, without acknowledging any positive aspects of these technologies.

The telegraph did not only send trivial information, but also requests for medicine for towns stricken by illness. Once wireless telegraphy was invented, sinking ships were able to send pleas for help. Photography is art, and can illicit joy (or sorrow), and this is not inherently a bad thing.

And then, there is television. While Postman finds a long list of things wrong with TV, he never mentions what good it can do. Television can, and does, inspire. Postman writes that people cannot or will not act on what they see on television, but I, at least, have acted. As a young child I watched a lot of shows about archaeology and anthropology, from features about the Pyramids of Egypt, to mummies in the Andes, to the hominid fossil named Lucy. Now I am majoring in Anthropology. And I know I'm not alone. For example this Storycorps video details, among other things, how astronaut Ronald McNair was influenced by the TV show Star Trek.





So, do you agree that Postman is too harsh on modern media and culture, or did he have it right?

11 comments:

  1. I believe that we have collectively expressed ourselves time after time in class that not everything in the media (television, magazines, ect) has to be completely negative. Postman has great intentions in his writings, but I do agree that he's being to negative. Perhaps it's because we are younger than him, and have grown up using technologies such as the internet and cable television which were new, forieng, and scarey to Postman. Maybe this has cause our opinion to be biased, while his is more raw since he experienced the transition of technology directly. It's a thought...

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  2. I dont agree. Yes he has a little bit of ground but you're right. There is a lot of good that can come from television. It is honestly all about how you use the object. You used television to further your interest in anthropology and archeology. A lot of people do this because there are very informative shows on the internet. There is also a ton of junk. "keeping up with the Kardashians", "jersey shore", and "as the world turns" that contain absolutely no useful or relevant information. I think that Postman is trying to say there is a difference between the way we perceive and use television compared to the average American.

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  3. I'm not sure Postman is being negative or realistic. I do agree that there are some positives contributed to TV; however, most of it is bullshit (Like professor Donnelly's video post). If I never watched TV once in my life, I would probably be a better person in that I may have used that time to actually do something productive. Like Postman said in chapter 6, most supposedly 'serious' programs are "fashion performances rather than ideas". It's great that TV was a medium for you to find out what you want to do in life, but majority of America does not use TV for that purpose. They use it to watch programs that amuse them and that are completely irrelevant to their lives.

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  4. I would agree that Postman is a bit too negative in the views that he is expressing, but I believe that this is mostly due to the fact that the point he is trying to convey is the negative effects of television. I believe he is not focusing on the positive aspects of it, and of telegraphy, photography, etc, because they are contrary to the idea he is trying to get across by writing the book. I think we have to remember that he wrote this book in a time where media was just emerging, and was being praised highly (much as it still is today). If we think of it in that context, Postman is really just responding to all of the positive things being said about these new technologies. I think he knew there were positives as well, but just didn't mention them because they were already being so widely argued for.

    I also agree with Ben that television was a bit newer and therefore a bit more disconcerting at the time Postman's book was written, so it makes sense that he would have a stronger opinion on it. I believe that this, plus the former are the main reasons that the book portrays television and new media technologies in general so negatively.

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  5. I agree with you, Amanda. And I also agree with John when he stated, "It is honestly all about how you use the object." Television isn't inherently bad just as written text isn't inherently good--it depends on the ways that they're used. And though Tierney's statement, "They [Americans] use it [televisions] to watch programs that amuse them and that are completely irrelevant to their lives," may have some truth, I'm not convinced that the same couldn't be true for written text as well. And furthermore, I'd argue that irrelevant works have a way dying off, while those more important tend to have lasting influence. Harkening way back to Nicholas Carr's article, Is Google Making Us Stupid, (at least I think that was the one, it's been awhile) consider the printing press. The printing press made it possible for any average person to publish any average thought, and there was an influx of mediocre prose as a result. But the mediocre written works are not the ones we hold on to still today, and I think the same will hold true for television media.

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  6. I know what you mean, Amanda. I'm constantly reading something and then saying in my head "I disagree with this completely and here's why." And I agree with your statement that people DO see something on TV and act upon it. Not just on aspiring to something they saw on TV as far as jobs, but for smaller deeds like helping at an animal shelter because of all the ASPCA ads or whatever. It also creates awareness for things that make a viewer feel called to action, like recycling.

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  7. I definitely agree with what those above have posted. I think that Postman is very harsh in his opinion of technology, because he is trying to convey the negative side of things. I think that television and other means of digital literacy are enabling us to not only learn about but also visualize information that may not have been possible in the times that Postman is discussing.

    When one sifts through the ridiculous reality television and other shows that are purely entertainment, there is a lot that can be relevant or inspiring to someone's life. Television shows can offer information and at least some knowledge. Even after our conversations in class today I think that the news, despite its brevity and appeal to outer appearances, is still offering society a positive. It is at least giving people the news that they are interested in, and doing what it can as a medium not necessarily the most appropriate for long in-depth discussion. I think Postman is very negative in what he says about written word against technological advancements when in reality they are such separated mediums that they can't be expected to offer public discourse in the same manner and still be effective.

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  8. This is true - postman does have a negative view on all things technology and it is true to look at all the good things that technology has brought us. But what is more entertaining, (I hate to say it like this because it's not exactly what I believe) talking about robots ruling the world - or how how TV brings certain creative outlets for others...

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  9. I do agree that Postman is very negative about technology and seems very bias about his views on the subject. However, I cannot also say that I think technology is also very good for American society. I say this because there is so much crap on television and people choose to watch those shows over others. Shows like "The Jersey Shore" and things of that nature are the programs that viewers should be weary of because they provide no educational value, only entertainment value.

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  10. I do agree that Postman does seem to be harsh on media, but at the same time he is just presenting a side that I guess we don’t see as often or hear about as much as how much technology helps us. We were raised in a time of technology while Postman saw technology rise (this has to be taken into account when we start talking about more modern times) so he is going to be naturally more skeptical of what is put on through television or other mediums. As others have mentioned Postman is discussing the negative aspects of television and other mediums so that is all we are going to read. That is why we are able to have disagreements with what he says. I think there is merit in his argument with the evidence he gives, but there is just as much merit in the opposite of what he says as well.

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  11. As I've stated on a few other posts by our classmates, I LIKE to think that media is a tool that is capable of inspiring individuals, something that moves people to action. While it may not always be the case, that doesn't mean that media in every form is useless, as you've displayed here. Postman's messages are harsh at times, and his points are valid, but I do think there are positive merits in media that he fails to mention.

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