Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Neil Postman (1931-2003)

Neil Postman (1931-2003)

On March 8, 1931, media theorist, author, and cultural critic Neil Postman was born. He is best known for his works criticizing the increase of the role of technology in every human’s life not seeing the dangerous side effects.

Neil Postman spent almost all of his lifetime in New York City and graduated at the State University of New York, receiving a master’s degree in 1955. A few years later, he began teaching at the New York University and founded a graduate program in media ecology. In his further career, Postman became professor and chairman of the Department of Culture and Communication.

Neil Postman earned himself an astonishing reputation through the years criticizing new technologies as they could “never substitute for human values“, which he distributed in 18 books and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles. Amusing Ourselves to Death from 1985 presumably depicts Postman‘s best known work, in which he warns society about the increase of mass communication in order to lose the ability to share and discuss rather serious topics, such as politics, journalism or education adequately. According to Postman, television turns serious and complex issues into superficial topics, aiming to entertain instead of inform society. His work was translated into eight languages and was sold over 200.000 times. In 1990, Postman gave a speech at the German Society for Computer Science stating that the way our society depends on information is critical and has become more of a burden instead of a benefit.

Another well known and highly discussed work by Postman depicts his 1992 published book Technopoly. In this work, the technopoly is a culture like the United States, longing for efficiency, preferring technical calculations over human judgement. In order to Postman, this is a problem since more technology produces more information. He later states that all affected humans, preferably students should have access to learn all effects of the increasing role of technology in their future.

In his argumentation, Postman often refers to specific situations in the middle ages, just as he did in The Disappearance of Childhood. He argues that since the middle ages, society developed a whole different role of the childhood in a human’s life. Childhood became innocent and independent from adult’s problems, speech and thoughts. Postman also argues that since the spread of television in society, childhood loses this innocence. According to the critic, children are no longer protected from the way adults talk, from issues in society and especially family such as divorce or alcoholism.

Further works by Neil Postman are almost as widely known as they are discussed and his reputation survived until this day, wherefore he belongs to one of the most significant media and cultural critics of all times. Neil Postman passed away on October 5, 2003 at age 72.

At yovisto academic search engine, you may enjoy Neil Postman in an interview on ‘Are we “Amusing Ourselves to Death”‘ from 1985 as part of the Open Mind series.

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