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Brave New Medium

by JulyMorning Wed Apr 12th, 2006 at 12:01:23 PM EST

In "Amusing Ourselves to Death" Neil Postman argues that television as a mass communication medium, and thus a conductor of our culture, has changed the content of our ideas and turned serious public discourse into pure entertainment. The book, published in 1984, explains how the entertainment we love so much leads us, not in an Orwellian but in a Huxley-ian way, down the path of our own intellectual death. Postman writes:


Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

Yet, this was 20 years ago. Now, the question is this: can we apply Postman's arguments about the media's influence today? Is TV good or bad? Has the Internet changed our way of thinking and the very nature of public discourse? I don't claim to have the answers of these questions. May be YOU do. But I believe it is important to understand the influence of television, so that we can understand the influence of the Internet.

There is not a single subject of public interest - politics, education, science, sports, and art - that does not find its way to television. Even religion is presented as entertainment, to the extent that the public worships preachers themselves. Because television transforms all serious issues into amusement, it has a disastrous effect, Postman wrote, on the way people perceive truth, intelligence, and knowledge. The damage, of course,


is especially massive to youthful viewers who depend so much on television for their clues as to how to respond to the world.

As our culture moved from oral to written to televised, and now, to computerized communication, our idea of truth changed. The credibility we entrust to a speaker on TV (mainly depending on appearance) has replaced reason as the device of truth-telling. Politicians, for example, as well as all public figures, need not worry about having a reasonable platform; all they need is to perform well (and employ excellent PR companies). What is more, television changed the way people perceive political discourse because most political campaigns rely on television commercials.

Since intelligence in defined as one's ability to grasp truth, and truth is imparted through communication, our cultural definition of intelligence is derived from the character of our communication techniques. Television has made people become "sillier by the minute," because it has one goal only - to supply its audience with entertainment, meaning "not that TV itself is entertaining, but that television has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of experiences." Which, in its turn, makes the public a passive viewer of the political events.

The question today is:
Does the Net, and blogging in particular, revive the willingness of the public to participate in the political life, and stimulate serious political discourse? Or does it create a new form of responsible and involved citizenry, woken up after the lethargic sleep caused by television? Or, perhaps, the notion that TV makes us stupid is an exaggeration, and, thus, civil society never disappeared?

I don't believe that people are getting sillier by the minute, and are turning away from books.  I have yet to see a diary named Websites That Changed Me.""

But we should bear in mind the influence of the medium, of course. As Postman wrote:

We can say that technology is to a medium as the brain is to the mind. Like the brain, a technology is a physical apparatus. Like the mind, a medium is a use to which a physical apparatus is put.

The problem with TV, according to Postman, and I completely support him, is not WHAT people watch. It is THAT we watch. The solution, he says is HOW we watch. He suggests we become "media conscious," that we should learn to understand the politics and epistemology of media.

Those who understand the nature of the new medium can take advantage of it. In the famous TV debate between Nixon and Kennedy, it was obvious who understood the nature of television and tried to appear better. Similarly today, politicians who understand the nature of blogging and use it, seem to win from it. But I do not believe that the politicians who blog are more efficient or active, and I don't think people believe that. It just appears so.  

The solution?
So far, remaining "media conscious" is probably the best advice to young (and all) people.

Comments >> (36 comments)

Seven Years in Libya

by JulyMorning Sun Feb 26th, 2006 at 06:48:12 AM EST

from the diaries. --Jérôme

February marks the 7th anniversary of the ordeal of five Bulgarian nurses, and two doctors, a Bulgarian and a Palestinian. However, the seven years in Libya for the medics have not been an inspiring and purifying experience like that of Brad Pitt in (Seven Years in) Tibet. For the medics, Libya has turned into Seven Years Bad Luck. (Bulgarian medical workers started working in Libya during Communism as part of the party's program for low unemployment. The higher salaries in the African country attracted Bulgarian doctors and this satisfied Libya's need for medical staff from abroad.)

Seven years ago the Libyan police arrested 23 nurses and doctors working at the Benghazi Pediatric Hospital. Seven of the medics (five Bulgarian nurses, and two doctors, a Bulgarian and a Palestinian)were accused of intentionally infecting 426 children and 20 mothers with the HIV virus.

Libyan prosecutors also charged the medics with being part of a conspiracy aiming to undermine the security of the Libyan state. Libyan leader Muammar Quaddafi publicly accused the CIA and Mossad of developing HIV and ordering the medics to infect the Libyan children.

Read more... (21 comments, 763 words in story)

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