Amusing Ourselves to Death

We recently held an engagement party for my daughter and her fiance. I had an opportunity to spend a little time with the father of my future son-in-law. An interesting and very intellectual man. We had a discussion about the role of technology in life and during our discussion he asked me if I had read Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”.

The book was written in 1985. If you want a quick summary of the book you can find a wikipedia page here. I was not familiar with Postman. I did buy the book and I have read through it.

Thought provoking even though much of what passes for contemporary technology in 1985 seems like a different and antiquated world compared to how we live and work in 2009.

His perspective is blunt and the following quote from his book provides a fair summary of his concerns about technology:

To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple. Moreover, we have seen enough by now to know that technological changes in our modes of communication are even more ideology-laden than changes in our modes of transportation. Introduce the alphabet to a culture and you change its cognitive habits, its social relations, its notions of community, history and religion. Introduce the printing press with movable type, and you do the same. Introduce speed-of-light transmission of images and you make a cultural revolution. Without a vote. Without polemics. Without guerrilla resistance. Here is ideology, pure if not serene. Here is ideology without words, and all the more powerful for their absence. All that is required to make it stick is a population that devoutly believes in the inevitability of progress. And in this sense, all Americans are Marxists, for we believe nothing if not that history is moving us toward some preordained paradise and that technology is the force behind that movement.

1 reply
  1. Jasmine Starnino
    Jasmine Starnino says:

    Mr. Cleaver, I did not expect a post about the engagement party to end on such a note! What a profound observation; I believe I may have to track down this book. I wonder about the overarching ideal of uncontrolled growth. It is the definition of cancer.

    Your blog is very enjoyable. Can’t believe I didn’t have you on my reader! I’ve since rectified the situation 🙂

    I’m glad the engagement party went well.



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