Friday, December 07, 2007

And now... this.

The title of this post is also the title of a chapter in Neil Postman's exceedingly-excellent Amusing Ourselves to Death. It's a critique of public discourse in the age of television; he wrote it in the mid-1980s, but his observation is as valid — perhaps even moreso — in this Age of the Internet.

(Remember, back in the '90s when people were first exploring the Web, how some idiots coined the term "The Information Superhighway" to describe the Internet?)

(I do.)

In the chapter I've referenced, Postman discusses how the evening news is essentially a meaningless, disconnected jumble of random facts which don't impact your life at all. He argues that, because they shift gears every 45 seconds or so, there isn't enough time to say anything of substance.

Perhaps most imporant for the state of public discourse is the utter disconnectedness of each piece with the next. For example, a newscaster could say:

...the fire has been blamed for the deaths of 83 orphans so far, with that number most certainly rising as dental records confirm more and more identities. A real tragedy.

(ever-so-slight pause)

And now... this: Stay tuned after the break for some great recipes for banana bread! You're watching Action News at 6.

Because we're so used to these random minutiae being thrown at us, our ability to follow a carefully-reasoned argument has waned. We get our "information" in sound-bites, newscasters seemingly have to stand and walk around a warehouse-like room with clipboards in order to keep our attention, and Noam Chomsky has a snowball's chance in hell of ever getting any airtime on a TV show.

Think these would fly today? No, neither do I.

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