Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Growing Up

When finishing up Neil Postman's, Amusing Ourselves To Death, I came across a chunk in his last chapter that struck me.
"The problem, in any case, does not reside in what people watch. The problem is in that we watch. The solution must be found in how we watch. For I believe it may fairly be said that we have yet to learn what television is...We have apparently advanced to the point where we have grasped the idea that a change in the forms, volume, speed and context of information means something, but we have not got any further." (bolding is mine)
This quote resonated with me, because it, in a way, surprised me that Postman could think this, yet still have such an emphatically negative outlook on television throughout his book. I think that television, like any new media, must go through a phase in which people try to figure out how to best use it.

When Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death in 1985, regular commercial network television was approximately thirty-seven years old (since it began in the US in 1948). Twenty-eight more years have gone by since then, and in nine more years it will be twice as old as it was in '85.

Haven't we grown in twenty-eight years? Aren't we moving to another range of programming?

I guess what I'm trying to say, very inarticulately, is that Postman is writing and thinking about a form of media that wasn't even a century old yet, and wouldn't be for awhile. Of course there were lots of bad programming in 1985, we were still figuring out how to use the television. I like to think that we have gone from our toddler years in 1985 when Postmen wrote his book, to our preteens in 2013, and now are preparing to buckle down for adolescence.

So here's my question for you, classmates, are we getting better? Was television too young to be analyzed by Postman, is his argument out of context? Where do you think television is going to go from here?


  1. I definitely think we are more aware as a culture that what we see on television is not all golden. I'm not saying that it stops us from watching, because it is entertainment, but I think people are actually critical of the junk - they realize it's not profound work even if they watch the shows.

    I think that his argument was valid for the time, but his ideas may not really be relevant now. Sure, we watch television for entertainment, but I think that's what we expect and want from the medium. I think that is will remain mainly a form of entertainment in the future, but so much is moving to the internet now. I think that perhaps Postman's argument pitting of sorts books against television age, would be like tv against the web now. There's more information, there's faster information, there's more junk, more people use it for news and/or entertainment purposes. However, I don't think that his argument would hold up if we put it against the internet of our present age.

    I do think that what we watch doesn't really matter. People watch for different reasons, and expect different programs. I do think the fact that we watch is still relevant. Programs, said to be junk or not, will be the ones to stay on air. I think we must just learn and keep in mind how we watch - on tv, via web, on a tablet, smartphone, etc. and whether we want it to change. That's when we'd have to really take Postman's argument to heart.

  2. Honestly, I don't think anything is ever "too young" to be analyzed. Anything that's analyzed anytime seems like a plus to me, assuming it's being analyzed by an upstanding and honest entity. I would agree, however, that television was too young to criticize people on their understanding or attempt at understanding it at the time. It seems too much like accusing a caveman of not being able to name all the practical uses of fire the day after he discovers it.

    I must say, however, that I am a bit alarmed at the small amount of progress we've made since Postman's book was published. I found myself agreeing with him on most of the last chapter, even though it's what, 28 years later now? Of course, I haven't searched the web and databases for studies on the effects of television, but the gist I've gotten is that we haven't analyzed it too well yet. As far as where I think we'll go with it, I certainly hope that more people begin to educate themselves on the topic and start looking at television critically, but as it had never even occurred to me to do so before this class, I'm not terribly optimistic on that front. This class, however is Postman's "solution" in action, so maybe if more classes like this spring up it will be successful.

  3. I can agree and disagree all in one swift motion. I thoroughly believe an infant technology should be scrutinized to help steer it in a better direction. Yet, testing is testing, and everything and everyone wanted to (and still want to be) on television. They produced everything. It seems that Postman was doing the right thing, but to a certain degree he almost became too critical. There weren't many constructive points made. I do like the point of not making much progress in all those years. Some pieces of technology took hundreds of years to develop into what we now use and think of as an ultimate tool. Yet, we expect the television to make leaps and bounds within a few decades.

  4. I also believed that technology should be analyzed and scrutinized early so that it can develop into something more beneficial to society. But I'm weary about television improving in the future. I think television has actually gotten worse and more problematic in the past ten years because of the pervasiveness of reality television complemented with the same sort of fragmented news that Postman was writing about in 1985. I think television programming has already climaxed and now it is dying out. The internet is slowly taking over television and now more people watched scripted programs via Netflix and other streaming devices. In ten years television will only be relevant to viewing sports, news, and reality TV because these shows do not cost as much as scripted shows and they still receive advertising support.

  5. I agree that the age of the book and the time period this is written isn't the freshest debate. Our culture had grown to revolve around TV and now extending to the internet. So, to say it is changing, definitely. To ask if we are getting better I'm not sure. What defines better? Improving the learning curve of our youth? Educating our nation and using the TV to make us better? I think we are still inventing ways to use TV to help us. I also think TV has gotten worse but so has society itself. Let's face it; our standards have gone down hill. TV is evolving fighting to make us "better" but it's naturally following the course of our societal history.

  6. I think that in some ways Postman's arguments are a little outdated and he was analyzing a medium that has changed a lot since its inception, but I think he has a lot of good points. There is perhaps more trash on television than there was when Postman wrote his book and I'm not sure that is going to change. Though we are using the television in different ways are these new ways better? I'm not sure where television is going to go from here, but I think it might get more interactive. When it was first created it was not really interactive at all, but with the internet at least people can respond to TV to a certain extent.

    The example I'm thinking of is Twitter and its use in television. Now tweets are read on television and can at least affect some of the debates on television and what is discussed. In that way at least, I think television is kind of being used in a new and innovative way.

  7. I think that Postman had a good point in that what needs to change is how people watch TV. And in that sense I don't really think that we have improved. However, has TV itself grown? I believe it has both grown and regressed. The flood of reality tv and the like to me is a step backwards (I realize that is a big blanket statement - I'm sure there are some decent reality tv shows out there) - while higher quality shows like Sherlock, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, etc. are examples of how the medium has matured.

    I think that either way it still is down to the audience and how they decide to engage with TV.

  8. I don't think anything is too young to be analyzed, as people have mentioned in their comments. But it is difficult to say how television has progressed or regressed. There are still "bad" shows out there and there are still "good" shows out there, and I think there always will be. And for that reason, I think I best defense is and always will be critical thinking. We must always consider the implications of the media we consume.