How would Postman have responded to social media?
Media critic Neil Postman’s book, Amusing ourselves to Death, written in 1985, argued at the time the content of public discourse had become dangerous nonsense. Although specifically aimed at the role of television and how this had altered the way information was communicated, his focus was on the role of epistemology, a subject concerned with the origins and nature of knowledge.
He argued that the decline-based epistemology and the rise of television-based epistemology had grave consequences upon public life. To further his arguments, he points out that “seeing is believing” had taken on a pre-eminent status as an epistemological axiom, but “saying is believing”, “reading is believing”, “counting is believing”, “deducing is believing” and “feeling is believing” are others that have risen and fallen in importance on culture that have undergone media culture.
The question that then arises is ‘has social media altered the way public discourse takes place?’ The way information is presented and disseminated is, needless to mention, easy to do online through the use of iPads, smartphones and laptops. Google’s scholarly book project has also contributed towards the encouragement of literary reading.
By contrast, Carr’s book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains takes the perspective that the internet is changing the way people read and process this information. Perhaps the main form of complaint is an overload of information. Having to be selective or discerning is not an easy skill to be learned or acquired. However, try summarising an argument in the most cogent and persuasive way from a book that you have read, then you will start considering whether you have understood this in its entirety.
A good example, is reading through a ratio from a law report. Can you extract the main principle, a task that requires more practice, reading and re-reading before this is understood. Or consider the works of Shakespeare or Dickens. How is language changed in discussing the plots and storylines?
Online social media has changed public discourse despite some reservations about the overload of information. If there is a skill that we need to go back to, it is the ability to discern, select and discriminate the sources that we read and how we prioritise our time.Tagged in: Amusing ourselves to death, he Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains?, internet, law, Nicholas Carr, postman, Social media
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