Twittering Ourselves to Death
It's sad Neil Postman isn't around to see his expectations come true. He died of lung cancer in 2002, but his popular book of the mid-1980s, "Entertaining Ourselves to Death", is still around to remind us of our inclination to waste time with mindless distractions. Postman would be appalled at how far technology has taken us in our frantic quest for relief from dealing with reality. He could have launched an entire chapter on the image of two people walking together down the street, both talking to other people on their cell phones.
"But we're just trying to stay connected to our friends!" pleads the cell phone addict. "It's a way to stay up to date on what's happening," contends another. Other addicts sit within the influence of a Wi-Fi hotspot chatting on their laptop computers with their built-in cameras. Wi-Fi, cell-phone conversations, or texting - - there is almost no way a person can avoid being "totally in touch," unless the devices are turned off. Hardly anyone wants to do that. It creates a terribly lonely feeling. There has got to be some noise coming from somewhere so we can feel "connected."
Postman also missed the Facebook craze. And Twitter had not claimed a toehold on society when he slipped away nearly a decade ago. He surely would have had something to say about it.
In 1990 Dr. Postman addressed the German Information Society, saying that society relies too heavily on information to fix our problems, especially problems of human philosophy and survival. (The "Information Age" was already well established.) He believed information had become a burden instead of a blessing.
"Everything from telegraphy and photography in the 19th century to the silicon chip in the 20th has amplified the din of information, until matters have reached such proportions today that for the average person, information no longer has any relation to the solution of problems," said Postman. (10-11-'90)
Was he right? Had the tie between information and action been severed?
Now that a high percentage of the population is electronically laced together with computers, cell phones, iPads, and other gadgets, have we improved society? Are we healthier? Are we happier? Smarter? More prosperous? Are our political leaders better than the scoundrels we used to elect before we became so well informed? Judging from the general news of the day we are in a rather bad predicament, particularly with respect to the monetary dilemma. The geniuses in political circles and the droves of economists in the academies cannot get our Humpty Dumpty economy back on the wall again. The Internet is ablaze with articles and commentaries describing the causes of our money troubles, but all the noise is not leading to useful solutions. The commentators are eager to place the blame, but they leave readers and listeners dangling. "Now that I've told you what's wrong, why don't you DO something?" Huh? If the pundits know what's wrong surely they have a solution. If we knew what the solution was maybe we could find a way to implement it.
I have lately noticed I have fallen into a habit of watching too much television. I blame it on cold weather. After supper I tend to wander into the sitting room to check the news and then hang around a couple of hours watching generally mindless fare. How am I benefited by "Minute to Win It" or "Biggest Loser"? Once in a while there's something to be learned from a PBS program, but why watch the endless repeats? Commercial television is a sea of noise and mayhem. The comedies aren't funny and the cop shows all follow more or less the same formula - murder someone in the first three minutes. Lots of splattering blood, gory autopsies, dazzling computer sleuthing.
The average American spends about four hours a day watching TV. That's 28 hours a week. More than one entire day PER WEEK being entertained! Two months a year watching television!! When you're old and the doctor has told you to get your affairs in order thoughts of all that wasted time might arise to haunt you. If only. . .
The late economics historian John King said many years ago that the USA was making a mistake giving up its manufacturing edge to take up services. "One of these days we'll find that we're merely doing each other's laundry," he said. And a flood of information - Wikipedia, Google, etc. - are of little value if one doesn't know how to put it to effective use. We're up to our necks in the "Information Age." Are we better off?
On Christmas a young relative showed me his marvelous pocket computer which was a telephone, a texting device, a camera, a flashlight, a connection to the Internet, and had several other wondrous attributes.. It even had a GPS application which locates places and people. He demonstrated by looking up his wife, who carried a similar instrument. And there she was! At my house!
"But it doesn't reveal what room she's in," I thought.
I know I'm out of sync with society by not having a Facebook account, and I don't know the first thing about Twitter. I don't hang out at Internet chat rooms and I still read books the old-fashioned way having resisted the invitation to "Kindle." It's not that I object to the technological advance of gadgetry. It's just that I can't manage my time well enough to take on any more entertainment.
Besides, with all that sitting I tend to put on weight. Surely, modern society doesn't need any more overweight people.
January 22nd, 2011
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