Book (mini)review- "Amusing Ourselves to Death"

Just finished reading “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman. I think I put the book in my to-read list after Alan Kay recommended in a talk of his(I don’t remember which one).

The book is about how any communication medium dictates the kind of discourse taking place in that medium. It was written in 1985, and so it is very much focussed on television and how in that medium, which is so dedicated to turning everything into entertainment, critical thinking and rational discourse are endangered. Despite having been written more than 30 years ago, however, I think it is still relevant today, perhaps even more so. Obviously, television is still around but social media dominates a large part of the social conversation. Postman’s point is that no medium should go unexamined. That is, we need to think about how any form of media— be it typography, television or the Internet— affects the information it carries, the culture at large, and the minds of the people who consume that form of media.

Postman talks only briefly about computers— recall that in 1985, personal computers were just taking off and the Internet wasn’t even a thing yet. It is surprising that he foresaw one issue that today is very much talked about(emphasis mine):

Thus, a central thesis of computer technology—that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data—will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved.