I’m a fan of Neil Postman’s work. His book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, is an incredible work, and not just for the concepts it covers. It’s most amazing accomplishment is that is was written 30 years ago and is more relevant today than it was then. I’ve already read the book and written a review on it, and I consistently recommend it to everyone I interact with.
So you may be wondering why I’m writing about it again.
Well, in the midst of the government shutdown earlier this month, a close friend of mine, Jeff Turner, wrote an incredibly thought-provoking blog entry entitled, “The Illusion of Knowing Something”. In it, Jeff references Postman to support his point that, in this country, we value “the appearance of knowledge, not actual knowledge”. To say you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not reading Jeff’s post is an extreme understatement. I implore you to read it. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. (If I only had a fraction of his writing talent…, but that’s a post for another time.)
As a Postman fan, I completely agree with Jeff. On the whole, we have become lazy. We rely on the media and others to summarize complicated issues into 5 second sound bytes so we can feel informed. We regurgitate these sound bytes to support and defend our views. Few of us are genuinely interested in researching the issues on our own to formulate our own opinions, and those who do are accused of wasting their time. The end result is the situation we find ourselves in today. A government that is more interested in winning the war of public support through sound bytes and imagery rather than serious debate over what is really in our best interests.
I mean, seriously, how many of us would be willing to sit through a 6 hour unbiased recap of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (Frankly, as Jeff points out, I’m not sure how many of our elected officials would be interested in doing that.) Instead, we’re content to get a summary from CNN, Fox News, Jon Stewart, or our favorite news outlet, which aren’t designed to inform us. They’re designed to entertain us in the name of ratings so we continue to tune in the next day, the day after that, and so on.
So the next time you find yourself complaining about the ineffectiveness of the politicians we’ve elected, especially those in Washington, remember that we are all to blame for what’s happening. Until all of us decide to spend the effort to educate ourselves on the issues shaping our future and form our own opinions, our destiny will be determined by those who job it is to entertain rather than inform us. It’s a decision that will not only affect us today but also affect our country for generations to come.