Saturday, August 25, 2007

Standing the test of time!

Postman's book, which some have read, and is highly recommended, laments the shift of public discourse from typography to television. This made me think about whether the shift is changing with the widespread use of the internet through Web 2.0, blogs, podcasts and so forth:

"In this book, Neil Postman, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at New York University argues eloquently and convincingly that television is transforming our culture into one vast arena for show business in which all public affairs - politics, religion, news, education, journalism, commerce - have been turned into a form of entertainment. Amusing ourselves to death is an urgent plea for us to question what is happening before it is too late."

The book not only succinctly examines the communication medium (through television), but discusses the change from a typographic America (see chapter 3) to a "Now...This" mindset.

"This is Neil Postman's contention. Television, he argues, has taken the place of the printed word as the centre of our culture, and in so doing has trivialised the onnce serious and coherent discussion of all public affairs. Even our political and religious leaders today depend more on camera angles and showmanship than on reason and rhetoric. Using examples from America's past and present history, he makes a convincing, often wittily argued case that we are moving not towards Orwell's vision of the future but towards Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in which people become addicted to the technologies that take away their capacity to think: their critical faculties are destroyed and their sense of history is lost."

Although Postman has written a book on technology, I am more inclined to think that what is happening is another culture revolution (shift from television to the electronic medium) through the use of the internet (blogs, podcasts, videoblogs etc.) has taken. Would Postman have envisaged this? I don't know, but I leave you with a few thoughts from his book:

"Any yet there is reason to suppose that the situation is not hopeless. Educators are not unaware of the effects of television on their students. Stimulated by the arrival of the computer they discuss it a great deal - which is to say, they have become somewhat "media conscious". It is true enough that much of their conciousness centres on the question, How can we use television (or the computer, or word processor) to control education? They have not yet go to the question, How can we use education to control television (or the computer, or word processor)? But our reach for solutions ought to exceed our present grasp, or what's our dreaming for?...

What I suggest here as a solution is what Aldous Huxley suggested, as well. And I can do no better than he. He believed what H.G. Wells that we are in a race between education and disaster, and he wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking."

I would hope that the internet revolution (blogs, podcasts etc.) not only challenges the mindsets of teachers and students to be critically aware, but to evaluate the things that we read - the problem that I find is usually an information overload (not merely from the television medium, but also from the internet etc.) - evaluating the sources (whether television, internet, radio to name a few examples), sifting through the main points will be the key.

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