Amusing ourselves to death, a spot-on future prediction from 1985

Originally published at: Amusing ourselves to death, a spot-on future prediction from 1985 | Boing Boing


I had Postman’s book assigned in college in the 2000s. I’ve thought about it a lot during the last 5 years. One of the more prescient books out there.


Postman also wrote Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992). I had a quote from it on my first website (c. 1995):

Attend any conference on telecommunications or computer technology, and you will be attending a celebration of innovative machinery that generates, stores, and distributes more information, more conveniently, at greater speeds than ever before. To the question “What problem does the information solve?” the answer is usually “How to generate, store, and distribute more information, more conveniently, at greater speeds than ever before.” This is the elevation of information to a metaphysical status: information as both the means and end of human creativity. (pg.61)

Insightful guy!


Orwell: Big Brother is watching you
Huxley: you are watching Big Brother


is it just me or is ‘centrifugal bumblepuppy’ the most British name for a meaningless physical recreation?

I listened to an audio book version of “Brave New World” narrated by Michael York and it was fantastic. Well, and depressing.


Postman was being prescient by writing about how Orwell and Huxley were prescient? Our reality is clearly some mash up of the two; what neither foresaw was those visions weren’t mutually exclusive.


"What problem does the information solve?”

just my opinion, but while the answer ( at those events ) will range from the one he gave to “making lots of money” i think other hats in the ring are curiosity and human connection. or as huxley said via the op: amusement. or as orwell said via the op: fear

look at why people are “here” on boing boing: trading in information and i think it’s a mixture of all of those things:

status in having information faster, curiosity about the world, discussion and connection, some mostly wonderful things, and keeping tabs ( the old kind, tho maybe also the browser kind ) on trends in human catastrophe

nothing is rarely one thing


I’m not sure how prescient that was, it was just descriptive of 1985 and it holds true today.

“Things are more like they are now than they have ever been before” is prescient in exactly the same way.


i’m not sure i buy this. for one thing, people are still trying to ban books, and that’s because people are reading more in general now than ever before, on paper and on screens. i don’t think the abundance of information has made us passive, either. more people are standing up and fighting for all sorts of issues now, and the increase of visibility and the quick ability to disseminate information helps that. we regularly see stories where leakers and other types of people are sleuthing out previously-hidden dealings and making them public, causing outcry about what used to be back-room shenanigans. i still think overall there’s more cause for optimism than there is for despair. not very gen-x of me, but still.


Seems ironic that you learned about this 1985 book on Facebook.


Neither Orwell nor Huxley were making predictions to explain the whole futures, but wrote a dramatization of a specific relevant problem take to the extreme to make a point.
I think Postman deserve some points for calling Huxley as the ‘more correct’ for the current situation, as even today when someone thinks of our autocratic problems, it is mostly 1984 that is cited.

Postman’s arguments are more about what kind of information gets more attention and how it affects the public discussion and civic participation.
He argues that the TV (and it works even more for the internet) selects information that is more appealing as image and are more digestible as a shallow sequence of loosely related bits, and anything different (more textual or requiring more critical thought) have a disadvantage to propagate and to stay as a topic of discussion.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is a great book about how the TV shaped our discourses and its discussions are much more interesting than the Orwell vs Huxley bit.
IIRC, he has a whole chapter on why he hates Sesame Street.


It even has a soundtrack.

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hates Sesame Street? a whole chapter? good lord.


I think it’s entirely too shallow. We’ve turned hatred and misinformation into entertainment, a full-time past-time that enlivens us with our own bile.

It’s not that we’re all so entertained that we don’t pay attention to what’s happening. It’s that we’ve turned what’s happening into entertainment. You must remain civil towards friends who’ve taken up with these forces, because to do otherwise is to harm a real relationship based on their consumption of fictitious narratives (despite the fact that these views have real consequences, but they’re separated from them).


If i’m not mistaken, after he argues about the problem with the television, he moves to some specific cases, like nixon-someone presidential debate (don’t remember the name, cause i’m not from the us), where nixon self presentation was more important than the ideas being discussed.

His main point against sesame street was that it created a false idea that learning can be entertaining all the time and it also introduces the other problems from tv, like shallow and small bits without connection, to the way people think about education.
I’ve never watched it, but it sounds like some of the kids shows from my country.

I don’t remember if he mentions other things from sesame street, like that it was inclusive and so on.
But, if he did, i think it was that it was good, but his focus was on the things he criticize.


FYI, it was the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, the first televised debates. I think that the debate helped, but it’s not like Nixon didn’t know about employing TV to his advantage. As VP candidate in 1952, he was accused of some impropriety around campaign funding:

The result was the famous/infamous Checker’s Speech…

As VP, he engaged with Secretary Khrushchev in the Kitchen Debate…

I’m not entirely convinced that he lost solely due to his image on TV… Kennedy did cut a better figure, but he was also pushing policies that more Americans were interested in, I think.


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