Amusing Ourselves to Death Summary By Neil Postman

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Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) is a thought-provoking book by Neil Postman that examines the rise of television and triviality in our society.

He argues that the medium of television has profound effects on public discourse and is drastically changing the way we communicate.

Over the course of two centuries, he observes how the United States has shifted from being largely defined by printed materials to being increasingly influenced by television and light entertainment.

By looking critically at this trend, Postman sheds light on the potential consequences for a society dominated by electronic media.

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Book Name: Amusing Ourselves to Death (Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

Author(s): Neil Postman

Rating: 4.4/5

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Neil Postman was an internationally renowned social critic, researcher, and theorist of education and communication.

He was a professor at New York University for 40+ years, during which time he wrote several influential books such as The End of Education and How to Watch TV News.

His most widely known work is the book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

With its witty criticism of modern media and pop culture, it quickly gained a huge following among students and intellectuals around the world.

Neil's impactful writing style, combined with his sharp observations on how our society operates today, makes him a revered figure even decades after his passing.

How Changes in Media Consumption Have Shaped Our Society


The way we consume information has shifted drastically over the past century.

Subscriptions for newspapers, which used to be the place people got their news, have been rapidly declining.

Nowadays, modern mediums like television and the internet are flooded with entertainment that isn’t as informative as it should be.

We no longer take time to read in-depth articles; instead, our new focus is on brief headlines and snippets of texts designed merely for amusement.

This is gradually shaping society –we’re now living in an age where our knowledge and education levels are being dumbed down by modern media.

Through reading sections about how these changes occurred , why Abraham Lincoln was such a great speaker and how television is providing a Huxleyan warning, you’ll understand just how much modern media takes away from us when it comes to learning what’s really going on and becoming informed citizens of today’s world.

How Television is Transforming the American Spirit and Redefining Public Discourse

Throughout history, our ideas about truth have evolved right alongside the advancements in communication media.

Until very recently, public discourse was based on words as the most important medium of communication.

This gave rise to grammarians and logicians who studied and analyzed written language.

But then came a major shift that occurred when TV took over as the dominant medium of communication – which is sadly unable to convey intellectual content as effectively as written language.

As a result, society began to give more weight to appearances than written truths, leading to a change in our ideas about what is and isn’t true.

For instance, no longer do you need written proof when sharing news or achieving goals – such as graduating from a doctorate program at Harvard University.

You simply have to appear credible in order for people to believe you.

As we can see, with each evolution in communication media comes a shift in our ideas regarding truth and how it is perceived by the public discourse.

How America Went From a Word-Centered Culture to an Image-Centered One

Nineteenth-century America was dominated by the medium of print.

People of the time were passionate about reading, with Thomas Paine’s Common Sense pamphlet being printed nearly half a million times.

This was at a time when the American population stood at only 2.5 million people!

It’s no surprise that it formed the basis for public discourse in America throughout the nineteenth century.

The public engaged regularly with newspapers and, as such, their language style was closer to written language than spoken language.

Elaborate metaphors, subtle irony andcomplex sentences were commonplace during political debates; an example would be Abraham Lincoln’s epic three-hour campaign speeches during his run for presidency in 1860.

People of 19th century America were judged on the words they spoke – their writings and positions – not their image or looks.

You’d have to be quite lucky to have caught sight of Abraham Lincoln walking down your street!

This certainly isn’t something you’d find today, where we almost always associate public figures with their face rather than what they have said or written in print.

Telegraphy, Photography and the Foundation of Show Business: How a Focus on Quick-Fire Narratives Changed the Way We Experience Information


In the mid-1800’s, a new way of communicating rapidly blossomed called telegraphy.

It revolutionized both communication and ideas about what should be communicated.

Though Henry David Thoreau famously observed wryly that telegrams could convey information about even trivial matters such as Princess Adelaide’s whooping cough, this form of embedded transmission was stripped of context and analysis, leaving only snippets of facts.

At around the same time photography also emerged, which perfectly complemented the deluge of snippet-like telegrams with its visually appealing yet untethered images which were able to quickly segment into “a thousand words” without any real talking points or discourse.

This “seeing is believing” approach substituted itself for print media’s ‘reading is believing’ ideology.

It can therewith be said that Telegraphy and photography laid the foundation for the age of show business – where random information surrounded disconnected from any logical implications or repercussions.

Televisions then further drove this idea forward creating an omnipresent spectacle leading us to the age we are currently in: one in which our brains are glued to 24/7 streamings full of superficially digestible articles & broadcasts with no gripping discussion or dialogue attached whatsoever!

The Rise of Television and the Change in Public Discourse: How Our Preoccupation with Entertainment Has Negatively Impacted Serious Discussion

On television, public discourse takes on a whole new form; it becomes entertainment.

No longer is there room for serious discussion or thought-provoking debate; instead, TV has become a way to provide visuals that entertain the viewer and make them feel pleasure.

It’s clear when you look at the news – which begins with lively music and ends in the same way – that its primary purpose is not to be informative but enjoyable.

Moreover, the manner in which reports of mass killings and natural disasters is presented by the newscasters is unremarkable and enlivened with enthusiasm.

Televised debates are equally troubling since the best showman triumphs over the person making well-argued points due to a better appearance on screen.

To make matters worse, commercial breaks blatantly disrupt any seriousness being discussed as people go from contemplating nuclear warfare to Burger King’s latest offer in a matter of minutes.

Television’s Transformation of the Political and Religious: From Divine to Show Business

The rise of television has transformed the way we view religion and politics.

Religion has become just another form of entertainment with elaborate sets, sparkling fountains, and choral groups.

Politics is also reduced to a game of show business, as Ronald Reagan famously said in 1966: “politics is just like show business.” This means that campaigns have been primarily focused on presenting an appealing image, rather than taking a firm ideological stance.

Furthermore, the influence of television commercials has had a major effect on how political ideas are presented.

The addition of 30-second political ads has prioritised brevity over depth when discussing issues, leading to a belief that all problems can be solved quickly and easily.

In short, television has made it so that both religious ceremonies and political discussions are viewed more as entertaining spectacles than anything meaningful or sacred.

The Limited and Limiting Philosophy of Education Offered by Television and its Huxleyan Warning

Education Offered by Television

Television has changed the way we approach education—and it’s not for the better.

For example, children learn as much in front of the television screen as they do in school.

It is almost like a curriculum for kids and adults alike with an increasing amount of hours spent watching TV instead of studying.

What’s even more worrying is that television assumes any subject can be comprehended without any effort or prior knowledge.

This philosophy seems to do away with structured learning, prerequisites and memorization – all things essential to effective education.

Instead, everything on TV comes packaged in the form of a story, leaving out important elements such as arguments and discussion that are necessary for reasoned discourse.

In this sense, television is turning public discourse – whether political, educational or religious – into nothing more than entertainment.

That’s why Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World rings true today; he imagined people adoring technologies that make them shallow thinkers and wash away truth on tides of irrelevant information and culture degradation – which is exactly what we see happening with modern society today thanks to the influence of television.

Wrap Up

The Amusing Ourselves to Death book by Neil Postman summarized the way television has shaped our society and cognition.

He argues that it has monopolized the content of public discourse by turning it into entertainment, and if we don’t pay attention to its powerful influence, we will soon find ourselves living in a Huxleyan dystopia condition without any means of shaping or influencing our world.

To prevent this undesirable outcome, Postman encourages readers to become more critical of what they see and hear on television; to recognize how its messages shape their attitudes and beliefs; and finally, take responsibility in improving the type of content they choose to consume.

This is his final summary from an unforgettable book – wake up now and discover how television is affecting your life!

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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