Neil Postman: Amusing Ourselves to Death

Neil Postman was a special type of a man and considered that he was not an expert on anything, and yet he was ready to express his opinion on every subject under the sun. The person’s mind was continuously working at jokes, headlines and different ideas. This infected an individual when he met Mr. Postman and that could be responded to only with humor, and even that was likely to bring out more ideas. There were a lot of people who knew him – in excess of a hundred thousand or so – had first met his humor. This was also reflected in the books that he wrote. Each of these is also a source of propaganda for his views and written like an essay.
The first was “The Disappearance of Childhood” in 1982, and this was on the infantile nature of American culture. The next book was in 1985 and a satire on entertainment and was named “Amusing Ourselves to Death”. The last was in 1993 called “technopoly” and this criticized the fall of culture to technology. He had an excellent intellectual pose along with poise in public meetings and all this rode on the back of his capacity for humor. He always felt that he was the civilized man in a barbaric setting. This setting gradually changed into television and was concerned with the dots, and pursued him all his life.
Now let us look at what is this television and how it connects with people. In the United States it first started transmission in New York and the British play, “The Man with the Flower in His Mouth” was broadcast there in July 1930. Thus one can say that television started off in the heart of United States and the television station was located in South Eastern New York at the mouth of the Hudson River. The station began broadcasting seven days a week on July 21, 1931. This was a television channel or station that broadcast on the terrestrial mode as that was the only mode available then.

The bandwidth was then highly confined and this led to a high control by the government. Yet, from the beginning television has been highly used for advertising. Organizing the TV programs that are to be broadcast can be worked out either as a direct production by the manufacturers and then selling to the station that intends to buy it. Sometimes the production itself is paid for by the TV station that will show it. (Television) In other cases the station issues a license to the producers to produce the show for the channel.
The show is sometimes carried on in other centers after the show is over on the main channel. In TV terminology this is called secondary programming usage. The secondary shows may be in the original country where the show was produced or in other countries from where the channels are interested in the show. The shows may be controlled by the original producer or not depending on the agreement. Sometimes a group of TV stations run some common programs in their own interest, or through an individual. This is called syndication and the show may be sold by the producers themselves or their agents.
Yet with all this it has been seen that doctors recommend that children should only see TV for an hour or two at the maximum in the day. Excess of TV viewing is known to cause various diseases like ADD, excessive weight and heart problems. These may lead to diabetes or excess aggression. Thus it is clear that viewing of Television is not recommended in a high dosage for anybody, and the problem in our country is made worse by the situation of having a number of stations at every town or city due to the possibility of multiple channels being available now.
These channels can also be seen on the set through a cable and the customer only has to pay a monthly fee. This is the problem that was envisaged by Postman quite a few years ago, and possibly he foresaw the worsening of the situation due to the advent of cable TV. The problem was also made clear by the decline of the family in the country and as a result the children are being left with only one parent. Most of the time, the single parent is working and is not able to attend to the child when the child comes back from school.
These let the child free with the television and see any program of their choice. (Television) Neil Postman is an authority on children and has written many books about different subjects. These are mostly concentrated on education, as he was a teacher himself. He has written on the crisis in the schools, the effect of Television on our public and political life and the nature of modern childhood and education. He has taken the position of conscientiously objecting to whatever he saw being harmful to the society.
In certain cases he has pointed out institutionalized mistakes or organizational stupidity and asked for their solution. Throughout the West, there has been the concept of three stages in life – infancy, childhood and adulthood. This had gone undisturbed for 350 years, but is now being questioned by a new element in the communicational facilities – television. This is seriously disturbing as the contents of life that would be normally faced by adults are now being made open to the children through this new medium.
The children do not have to go through the portals of adulthood for reaching this information. Earlier this was being protected by the adults through certain secrets that are known to adults, but not revealed to children till they reached the appropriate age. These secrets are the social, political and sexual secrets that an adult must know. At the same time Television reveals all these secrets at once, and this makes it difficult to control the socialization of the young among themselves.
This is making the young less discernible from adults. Stirring Up Trouble about Technology, Language, and Education) In the past there was a time when alcoholism was seen only among adults, and not at all among children. Today it is common to see child alcoholics. The same situation exists among children for drugs and it is quite common among children. The same situation exists for sex and sexual disease and this is seen from the total crime statistics. There are a number of figures that show the young being involved in crime today while this was not the situation even in 1959 as the figures for crime by people under the age of 18 shows.
Thus it is clear that television is making the concept of childhood as being different from adulthood being different extremely difficult to sustain in North America, and childhood is disappearing from that region of the world. At the same time, there some parents who are well off and if they know what is happening to the child may still provide him or her with a childhood. This requires the parents to be very careful on the influences of the media on the child, among other factors. The problem is that not many parents can meet those conditions, and the influence of television among media is still rising.
As mentioned earlier, there are many single parent houses in America and their difficulties have already been discussed. Even when there are two parents, both of them are working at the same time and that stops them from being able to give enough time to the children for socializing. This transfers the socializing exercise to the television set, and many of them are unable to control the channels that the children see or what films they see, or even know what records they have. These activities require the parents to have a lot of time for the child, and advise the child. Yet not many parents find the time for that.
Thus for the children to have a childhood, the parents must spend a lot of time with the child. On the other hand many parents are too busy and there children get the required education from the advertising of NBC, CBS, Steven Spielberg, Coca-Cola and Proctor and Gamble. In certain countries television is being controlled – Denmark. They have now limited the extent of commercials that an advertiser supported station can have. These stations are not permitted to have advertisements on cigarettes, liquor, beer, banks, medicine, religious organizations, political organizations, or even advertisements aimed at children.
Also, in Denmark, the television operates for the full 24 hours in a day. But, it is not possible for this to happen in the United States as the Americans would feel it is very restrictive, apart from the ideology of the present day administration. The present day administration may even be called the extreme type of free market supporters. This has not started today and even Ronald Reagan was not conservative, and he was probably as oriented to the free market as is the present President Bush. They are all willing to get as much out of technology as possible in terms of gains of dollars.
Thus there is no chance of any restriction being put on the hours of operation of the Television through any social policy. This attitude goes on in Americans well beyond the limits of television and is being applied by them even in the case of computer technology. The issue is not of one particular technology, but the general question of using technology for financial gain to extreme limits, or no limits. (Stirring Up Trouble about Technology, Language, and Education) It can be said that in the exploitation of technology, there are no limits in America and they generally do not have any concerns about the psychological and social effects.
They are just interested in knowing what the new technology can do. They are not concerned about the effects of the new technology in changing the social or cultural behaviors of the citizens. This is reflected in Sesame Street which makes the children get more attached to television than school. The concerned program is well prepared and makes the maximum possible use of a visual image based medium. When the makers of the program say that the program will make the children like school it is only right in the sense that the children will like school if it is a show like Sesame Street.
The show is probably helping the children learn the elements that are taught in school like the letters and the numbers, yet at the same time, it is also giving the children some built in impressions about school. This is teaching the children that school must be entertaining, and that images have to form the basic of learning. It also gives the children that feeling that learning is immediately rewarded by getting of rewards in some form or the other. The impressions which are built into the children turn out to be more important than the learning that they get, and that is the problem.
The children learn the numbers and letters in other forms also, and that also happens within the expected time, but the normal learning process does not build in these difficulties. It is often said that these methods of education make the children more intelligent, but that is a moot question to answer as the differences in intelligence are hard to define and their benefits are also hard to judge. The question of intelligence is easy to be used, as nobody probably understands what we are trying to say, but it is much easier to understand when we say that a person is stupid.
It is possible that the technology available in the computer will help the technology of printing to a large extent, and that would be a service. It also increases the thinking by the children as to program a computer the child has to think quite a lot. Yet the total effect that this would cause is rather difficult to guess. (Stirring Up Trouble about Technology, Language, and Education) Technological development has had a very big impact and much more so when the development has been on the matters of information and communication.
They have great impacts in terms of socialization, ways of thinking and methods of learning. A lot of these changes have taken place in the latter part of the 20th century and this brings up the question of defining the new Child of the Information Age. Some people may be defining all the children of today as Children of the Information Generation with television, computer games and video games. This had also been the thinking of Neil Postman, and he believed that this made the child cross puberty physically but never reach maturity.
Thus they loose their childhood but are then are lost to mankind. The phrase “technology development” normally refers to the development of tools and these are being developed from the time that men have started on the path to development. (Children of the Information Age: A Reversal of Roles) Until the seventeenth century, tools of a more primitive kind were being used by all civilizations. Not that all countries were using the same tools and some had only spears and cooking utensils available to them. On the other side, others had water mills, coal and horse power.
At the same time, these tools were not intended to change the civilization which had brought them into existence, and they were not intended to attack. Thus the tools did not stop people from believing in their versions of god, politics, and methods of education or their methods of social organization. (Kaplan, 34) Some cultures and religions believe that television is intruding into their religion and the use of television is banned by some sections of believers in Islam in some parts of the world. In the world of today, children and adults see the same movies thanks to television and highlighted by Postman.
They all get into telephone romances; get informed about the same pop music and the same computer games. These come through both the television and the computer. This results in the adults never growing up and becoming more childish as time goes on. The children become more mature as they are exposed to all matters of adulthood, or at least seem so. This adulthood is only superficial and not emotional, as the amount of information to be passed on to the child should be passed on in a controlled manner by the concerned adult, as otherwise, the concept of being a child will end.
This gradually stops the clear line of demarcation between adults and children, and the sense of independence and responsibility also becomes unclear. This is highlighted by Postman who describes the present day children as living between illusion and realty. This has also made the adults loose most of their authority, and it is a world without borders. (Children of the Information Age: A Reversal of Roles) In truth these makes them totally dependent for all the time, and never grow up into adults.
Yet the children of the present day differ a lot from the children of earlier years and they consist of a larger section of the people who come to the net regularly. This is quite understandable as the net is a part of their life which has never been the case with their parents. In studies it has been seen that as much as 73% of the American population between the ages of 12-17 use the Internet regularly and the study was in June 2001. These children also certainly have a care in the world for the world that they live in.
One of their main contributions is through the creation of web sites for helping others. Jason Fernandez from Mumbai had built a site which supported children with learning disabilities along with their parents and teachers. This is a site for common good. The new facility of Internet has made it possible for everybody to publish his or her work. This is irrespective of age, gender, or education. The control is not with groups of people that existed in earlier generations where the work could only go out in the printed format.
This change will also bring in other changes in the methods of learning, working and social structure. (Children of the Information Age: A Reversal of Roles) Postman had been concerned that the importance of all items was being reduced by television – be it politics, religion, news, athletic education or commerce. This was how we were amusing ourselves to death. It also showed that image was viewed as more important than content, and television was the master of images. (Neil Postman’s amusing ourselves to Death) If Postman were to now concentrate on the newer developments he would write on the Internet.
To be negative, the Internet contains a lot of false information, and this would hurt the beliefs of a normal human being. But this is also something that we learn while growing up into adults from childhood, and is not necessarily negative. (Final Project Paper: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman) To conclude, one can thus say that while television makes the audience less responsible and childish, the Internet makes the audience more apparently mature. It is up to the audience to carry the work further, and not live for their own life, abandoning the responsibility of the children that they created.

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