Neil Postman Exposes Societys Dependency on the Media in Amusing Ourselves to Death

Categories: Literature

Did Neil Postman know something others didn’t when he wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, could he see something nobody else could? His once disregarded arguments thought to be irrelevant are now far too relevant. Thirty years ago Postman published his warnings of an American society disillusioned and misinformed by a dependency on media and an abundance of information of which contained no relevance or importance. He warned of a time when media controlled the people, rather than the people controlling the media.

Now fast forward to the year 2015, in a society ruled by television, and internet media, many of Postman’s warnings have become reality. America as a society is now obsessed with media, it is worked into every aspect of the American life. Young children are being brought up around technology and it is being encoded into their DNA from the very beginning. The average day of the middle class American consists of television, internet, social media, GPS, and radio.

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All of these mediums of getting information have not only become the norm but an addiction, people cannot imagine living without their smartphones, which didn’t even exist when many were growing up. Postman made many claims about the media and its effects on the American society, should it continue in the direction he was seeing at the time. Based on the media today in news, and education, two topics which Postman was passionate about, the consequences of not heading to Postman’s warnings can now be seen. So how did it come to this, and what can be done to prevent any further dependency upon this newly accepted media that seems to keep the wheels of America turning?

One of Postman’s main claim was that television as an epistemology was not sufficient for delivering quality, truthful information.

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Yet television has become the number one way of getting news in America. An article entitled, “TV is Americans’ Main Source of News” by Lydia Saad, points out that 55% of Americans said they get their information from television. Postman pointed out how television had infiltrated the lives of Americans, and had won over their trust becoming the main source of information. Postman stated “Our culture’s adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane” (80). This trust for television as a way of obtaining information has become second nature, by now America as a society is so used to television its credibility is without question. When in fact it should be questioned, in an article published by business insider in 2012 it was revealed that six major companies control 90% of America’s media. These six companies are aptly named “the big six”, and consist of “GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time-Warner, and Comcast” as stated by the author Ashley Lutz. With all the media that swarms the internet, television, and radio every day, it is all primarily supplied by those six main companies. This brings forth the question of bias in the news reported in America, these six companies all have a sway towards one political side or different views on subjects, and is brought out in the stories they report and the way they report them if closely examined. Aside from this television news is held to a set time limit for reporting all the news stories for the day. 

Reporting a dozen or more top stories as well as shorter less important spin offs, in an hour or two causes the stories to be quickly gone over and only the main details reported, a lot of important background information will be left out, television news has the goal to quickly inform of the news, while keeping the attention and entertaining the viewer. On the other hand, the internet has no time or length limit when reporting news, thus making the internet a growing source for news. The internet can be helpful in filling in the gaps left by television news. It is no doubt the internet by far contains the most information of any medium, information on virtually any subject, from nearly any time frame is available on the internet. Also it is much easier to access old information and events by simply searching keywords rather than having to dig through physical books and articles or go through old television tapes and copies. Because of this convenience and accessibility, the internet has gained popularity and the trust of the younger generations, just as television has. The internet however can be harder to find credible, trusted sources than television, due to its vast amounts of information and the ability for almost anyone to create a website or post on a blog. However, the internet does contain many reputable websites and sources for gathering trustworthy information. Which is one reason it is becoming more widely utilized by students to do research.

Technology and education is nothing new however, in the year 1969 television embarked on a journey to reach young children and not only entertain them but educate them. The result was “Sesame Street” a T.V. show that has become a household name in America by now. Sesame Street utilized puppets and music geared towards young children while also teaching them things like basic reading and writing, this caused the parents to feel no guilt from sitting their children in front of the T.V. for an hour or two. Postman points out some flaws in Sesame Street’s approach however, he states “Sesame Street does not encourage children to love school or anything about school. It encourages them to love television.” Sesame street and many of the educational children’s shows aired today are no doubt educational, and teach kids basic skills that get them ahead when entering school. The problem is school is actually nothing like television, in school children do not simply watch a television program, which can hold their attention with quick editing, music, and characters. Children get into school and are given books and worksheets, nothing like the screen and moving pictures they are accustomed to.

In fact, consequences are now being seen from the use of television and media from such a young age. In a recent article by Diana Graber in The Huffington Post the effects on students learning and the use of technology was discussed. One main point made by Graber was of how students memories are suffering, because students are now storing information as keywords and going back to look up information later rather than remembering the actual information. Graber also points out “increased exposure to technology is rewiring our kids’ brains, making it tougher to reach and teach them”, and that all the technology is “creating an easily distracted generation with short attention spans”. Students today are often seen doing homework, headphones on, and constantly switching back and forth between surfing the internet, Facebook, or texting, and their assignment. This switching between schoolwork and technology is causing, a decreased learning experience, due to the distraction of technology students are not retaining as much information, which is seen in a decrease in grade point average. It also creates a shortened attention span in the classroom, where the student cannot browse the internet while in class and thus their mind wonders elsewhere.

The internet and technology is here to stay whether we like It or not, and its integration into education will continue, with both positive and negative side effects. A positive outcome of such extensive exposure to technology seen in students is the ability to find information much more quickly thanks to the internet, and an increased ability to switch between tasks quickly, Graber points out in the article. However, children are not being taught to limit the amount of time spent with technology during schoolwork, and that is what is causing the majority of problems seen. Along with self-control of switching between assignments and technology, students need to be taught critical thinking to decipher between credible and not credible sources for information from the internet. The problem is, they are not being taught this skill either, students typically learn to use a computer on their own at home and use computers to complete many school assignments. Schools do provide computer labs and students may learn how to correctly type, or use software that they can use to complete assignments, but they aren’t taught to use critical thinking while using a computer for finding information.

The internet is so full of information and can be a great tool if utilized correctly, however, if not taught the correct way students can be overwhelmed by the vast amounts of information available and not stop to think what they are reading may not be true. In an article by Larry Magid about the youth of today and the internet Magid claims, “The internet’s strength as a news resource is also its weakness.” The internet may contain endless amounts of information, yet it is this very fact that cause the internet to contain just as much junk information as important or true and credible information. This is why students need to be taught the skills to distinguish between the junk and actual information they might need, or at least can trust. Also with students being constantly surrounded by the internet and media since birth, they must be taught how to take in this information and ideas and analyze them and put them to the test, and form their own opinions and thoughts on a topic. Without skills like this the media will shape the lives of generations to come with its junk and irrelevance.

Postman used Aldeous Huxley as a reference to what he saw happening through media in the lives of Americans. Huxley warned of a time, “When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility” (155). Huxley’s warning can bring chills when read along with living in the America of 2015. Today Americans revolve around entertainment, the entertainment industry has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. The dialogue of Americans has changed, people have become so accustomed to “text lingo” that it has crept into the physical language, people can often be heard speaking aloud in these abbreviations used for texting. Could this be the “baby-talk” Huxley warned of? Huxley also points out a population becoming an audience and people’s lives becoming the show. Today numerous reality shows can be found, that follow the lives of “important” people, and the American population eat these shows up, demanding more. Social media such as twitter and Facebook have captured a whole generation. The number of followers one has on social media has become an important number, and has even replaced the number of actual friends a person has. People have been caught up in following their favorite celebrities and must know their every waking second, and are so intrigued, they can be caught checking their feed every hour, in fear of missing out on something. Because of this the latest celebrity gossip can at times compete with actual news events for a spot in the top stories. The media has become a distraction for everyone, not just students, adults can get so caught up in the social media, and celebrity gossip that real news often gets overlooked. This goes back to the student however, schools need to start teaching at a young age how to control the technology addiction that Americans now seem to be born with, and teach them how to choose between important information to pay attention too and what is purely for entertainment and should be limited.

Huxley agreed with a man by the name of H.G. Wells that “…we are in a race between education and disaster…” (163). These men were obviously wise beyond their years, and although their warnings were not taken seriously during their time, it is not too late to start implementing these warnings to avoid continuing down the path they point to. From an early age, just as technology is being learned by infants it must also be taught to them to limit its use. As children grow they need to be taught how to utilize the technology available for its helpfulness but not rely on its convenience. As well as taught to question the information gathered, and form their own opinions, then decipher what can be trusted or not. Society is capable of working in harmony with technology and media, it simply must remain critical that the people don’t allow the media to control them, but they control the media. Postman may have died but his warnings live on through this book, perhaps a new generation will see its relevance and head to his warnings before it is too late.

Works cited

  1. Adams, Peter. “News Literacy: Critical Thinking Skills for the 21st Century.” Edutopia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  2. Graber, Diana. “Kids, Tech and Those Shrinking Attention Spans.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffington, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  3. Lutz, Ashley. “These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 14 June 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  4. Magid, Larry. “Online Youth Need Critical Thinking Skills – CNET.” CNET. N.p., 6 Aug. 2009. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  5. “News Bias Explored.” News Bias Explored. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015. <>.
  6. Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York, NY, U.S.A.: Penguin, 2006. Print.
  7. Saad, Lydia. “TV Is Americans’ Main Source of News.” N.p., 8 July 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2015.
  8. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2015. < Street>.

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Neil Postman Exposes Societys Dependency on the Media in Amusing Ourselves to Death. (2022, Apr 01). Retrieved from

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