Amusing Ourselves to Death Synthesis essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 30 March 2016

Amusing Ourselves to Death Synthesis essay

Synthesis Essay
If a question was asked, any question, today’s automatic answer is to find the solution through technology. We’ve grown dependant on the ticking of clocks, the virtual world of the internet, and the convenience of our phones. A difficult concept for us to grasp, however, is merely thirty years ago most of these did not existed. So how has this affected our minds? Have we turned our brains into a living computer, or are we so dependent on outside answers that we’ve ceased thinking for ourselves? In today’s society we’ve entered a state of ignorant bliss about how little knowledge and wisdom we truly hold. Neil Postman (1984), the author of “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and an educator, tackled the now apparent fact that unlike George Orwell’s prediction that our rights to thinking would be ripped away, Aldous Huxley’s prediction that we will gladly hand them away voluntarily has become more and more true. Both Orwell and Huxley are English authors. (Postman, 1984) We allow our information to be fed to us by the television which trivializes it, and the internet which blends opinion and fact together so intricately that it is intermixed beyond comprehension.

Yet we process this information, we build our thoughts and opinions around what the other misinformed populous insists is fact. But we are aware of the lies and incomplete facts out there, so when the truth does come out, it is unrecognizable. Nicholas Carr (2008) wonders of our ability to separate how we think and how a computer processes input in his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” He complains of a recent inability to pay attention to books for long periods of time. He blames this on receiving his information online in quick snippets, and reading novels has become a chore to him. Carr mentions Lewis Mumford, a cultural critic, who speaks of the invention of the clock. He degrades the clock, saying “In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.” (Carr, 2008, p. 4) Is it true that we’ve handed over not only our minds, but our bodies to technology? We are becoming slaves to others to feed us the information we search, and to tell us how and when to do what instinct and Mother Nature had guided us to do for hundreds of thousands of years. And we’re paying the price. For thousands of years we’ve read and written books, which helped pass down wisdom to younger generations.

Books created worlds we’ve never seen, they questioned our philosophical purpose, and they answered it. From manuals to stories, books have been handed down as a collection of knowledge; but for the first time in millennia we’re raising entire generations who have never read a novel, short story or even a poem. David McCullough (2008), author of “The Love of Learning” defines for us the difference between facts and wisdom. Data is irrelevant until we have made the judgment to make it important and learn from it. We cannot memorize facts and call ourselves learned; we must look a layer deeper and find what the facts mean to us. “Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books.” (McCullough, 2008, p. 2) Without books we are only being fed data, numbers and words without any true meaning. (McCullough, 2008) Our ability to understand and think about problems creates an ability to understand beyond the ordinary and think complexly on a situation. When told the rate of a bowling ball’s fall, and the opposing force of air fighting against gravity, we can think about this and then ask something that never came up, “Why did we drop the bowling ball? Will a ten pound fall faster than an eight pound bowling ball? And what if the ball were square?”

Science is built on this foundation of thought, and with our technologies answering our questions – people have stopped asking the questions all together. In the article “O Americano, Outra Vez!” written by Richard P. Feynman, an American scientist and educator, the consequences of learning but never understanding concepts was made clear. In Brazil they taught physics as young as elementary school, however not a single student taught by Feynman in Brazil seemed to be able to comprehend what the words meant beyond just data. (Feynman, 1985) This inability to have opinions and questions over facts we learn impedes our ability to really understand what we learn. Because of the convenience of information today we’ve stopped asking if this needs verification.

We’ve become lazy in our advancement, and expect that sort of work and authentication to be done by someone who we may say is “smarter than I”. What today’s society doesn’t seem to understand is that this attitude has stunted our growth as the human race, and we are reaching a stalemate of blissful ignorance, much as Huxley predicted. But this is not to say technology is the sole root of our decreasing intelligence. The blame lies namely in our attitude towards the world of information that lies in our gadgets. Rather than utilizing this sort of resource as a layer of foundation to go beyond in discovery in a way that was impossible before, we let the endless array of data sit there only to be utilized at our discretion, which is not often. This state of unintelligence is not incurable, and perhaps turning to the root of knowledge and wisdom that has accumulated over our history, otherwise known as books, can turn around our ability to simply think. A book has the amazing capability to let us read in between the lines, and gives us the ability to absorb information much more efficiently than this “skimming” we find ourselves doing when facing screens.

We engage our minds when reading a book, and discover new ideas in every novel, short story and poem. And maybe all we need is to reawaken this amazing brain power we have long forgotten to use the information our technology hands us to the best of our ability. Our brain retains a wonderful ability to maintain enormous amount of information, and however much knowledge we may lack we can always remedy this by settling down with a good book. While our computers, phones, and television and provide an almost endless stream of pure data to us, we must learn how to properly utilize this information to the best of our benefit. We can choose to think logically with the knowledge handed to us, and to continue our growth.

The world can carry on its advancements to improve the lives of all that inhabit it, but only if the individual continues progressing. William J. Perry, Jr. (1970) said it best in his article “Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts” when he defined the words bull and cow. Bull is information that has relevancies but have minimal to no data to back it up, and cow has data but no relevancies. (Perry, 1970) Our technology is full of cow, and our minds are full of bull. Once we can find a way to combine these forces, we will never stop progressing. Perry (1970) summed the dangers of a chronic “cow”, “These are delicate matters. As for cow, its complexities are not what need concern us. Unlike good bull, it does not represent partial knowledge at all. It belongs to a different theory of knowledge entirely. In our theories of knowledge it represents total ignorance, or worse yet, a knowledge downright inimical to understanding. I even go so far as to propose that we award no more C’s for cow.

To do so is rarely, I feel, the act of mercy it seems. Mercy lies in clarity.” (p. 8) Perry is arguing we must first become aware of and recognizing cow, and to correct it upon sight. This requires we learn to learn, which means we should delve our minds into books and others personal wisdom and experience. In only this method can we expand our own minds and become aware of cow, or bull, and teach ourselves to think beyond what is given to us. We learn to analyze and experiment, and in this manner we can progress into a better future – not only for ourselves, but for future generations.


Carr, Nicholas. (2008). Is Google Making Us Stupid? [PDF document]. Retrieved from:

Feynman, Richard. (1985). O Americano, Outra Vez! [PDF document]. Retrieved from:

McCullough, David. (2008). The Love of Learning [PDF document]. Retrieved from:

Perry, William. (1970). Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts [PDF document]. Retrieved from

Postman, Neil. (1984). Amusing Ourselves to Death [PDF document]. Retrieved from


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