Are media news information or entertainment?

Book review of Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman.

I highly recommend the book. The second half of the book is so great that's it's my most recommended book now.
But, there are some challenges before the brave readers. It would be best if you mentally prepared yourself for:

  1. It's pretty hard to read. Both language and sentences are sophisticated. It would help if you gave yourself time to comprehend it slowly. I was reading it only when I had a less demanding day. If you're not a native speaker, it might be better to read a translation.
  2. History of discussions and readership in the USA was mildly interesting, not to say boring. If you're going to stop reading because of it, then it's better to skip it. It gives you some context, but it's not required to make sense of the book's second part.

After getting through all of that, everything about TV was eye-opening for me. I'm young enough to take TV, news, and media for a given. What's worse is that many harmful properties of media are only amplified now in the era of social media.

It made me realize why watching the news every day is a waste of time. Why the same applies to most of what we're doing with our phones — scrolling, and how most of it is just amusement even if it pretends to be serious. Read it; you won't regret it.

I won't attempt to summarise the points, but to give you an idea of what you can expect, here is a small pick of my highlights.

Since we live today in just such a neighborhood (now sometimes called a "global village"), you may get a sense of what is meant by context-free information by asking yourself the following question: How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve? For most of us, news of the weather will sometimes have such consequences ; for investors, news of the stock market; perhaps an occasional story about a crime will do it, if by chance the crime occurred near where you live or involved someone you know. But most of our daily news is inert, consisting of information that gives us something to talk about but cannot lead to any meaningful action. This fact is the principal legacy of the telegraph: By generating an abundance of irrelevant information, it dramatically altered what may be called the "information-action ratio."

That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to "join them tomorrow." What for? One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights. We accept the newscasters' invitation because we know that the "news" is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say.

The television commercial is about products only in the sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales, which is to say, it isn't. Which is to say further, it is about how one ought to live one's life. Moreover, commercials have the advantage of vivid visual symbols through which we may easily learn the lessons being taught. Among those lessons are that short and simple messages are preferable to long and complex ones; that drama is to be preferred over exposition; that being sold solutions is better than being confronted with questions about problems.



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