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Amusing ourselves to death

Studying communications at DCU in Dublin, as you’d expect, we had to do a lot of reading. (With something like 12 hours of lectures per week, I guess we had to do something with all that spare time!) I know now that the things I read there, from the age of 17 to 20, influenced the way I thought and still think about the world today.

One book that definitely had an impact was Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. It cropped up again for me recently when I came across the comic below – on reddit I think – and it brought back to me how much I really believed that Postman was right in his central thesis. It’s Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World we should fear more than Orwell’s vision of 1984. We risk failing to “take into account man’s infinite appetite for distractions”. Even in these hyper-connected days when many of us are glued to our smartphones and tablets in every spare moment (guilty!), television viewing is actually on the increase. Indeed it’s mobile and social media that are serving to drive viewing figures for many TV shows.

All of this reminds me that there was a programme on the BBC called Why Don’t You? on Saturday mornings when I was a young whippersnapper growing up in Greystones, Co. Wicklow. It’s theme tune included the words:

Why don’t you just switch off your television set and go out and do something less boring instead?

For many years now I haven’t really watched TV, aside from a rugby match here and there, and an episode of a comedy or drama series on DVD a couple of times a week. I don’t know if it was the influence of that Neil Postman book – or maybe even Why Don’t You?!! – but somewhere along the line I made a deliberate decision that there are more useful, valuable ways to spend my time. I’m in the minority on that front. The average European spends almost four hours per day – PER DAY! – watching television.

Anyway, here’s the cartoon version of Amusing Ourselves To Death. It’s worth a read if this kind of thing interests you; even though it was written in 1987, I suspect it’s even more relevant now.


Amusing Ourselves To Death - comic by Stuart McMillen, based on Neil Postman's book

4 replies on “Amusing ourselves to death”

When I shared your blog post with a friend who I thought might particulary enjoy it, this is what he sent me: “I read the blog online, then went to Amazon to buy and download “Amusing ourselves to death”, which I will later read alone on my iPad. This might be the most ironic thing I’ve done today, but I’m no longer sure what irony means. Where’s Alanis Morissette when you need her?”

True enough. It’s all well and good me getting on my high horse about TV-overload when I probably spend way too much time amusing myself to death online. Thanks for sharing though.

Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s brilliant. And I agree with Huxley. Orwell’s books explained so much about totalitarianism, and Huxley’s about our form of capitalism.

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