This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Neil Postman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Are you looking to further your understanding of Amusing Ourselves to Death? How can you relate this thirty-six-year-old book to life today?
Thirty-six years ago, Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death to warn society of a looming future like Brave New World. Postman believed that entertainment value would become more important than truth or intelligence.
Continue reading for Amusing Ourselves to Death discussion questions.
Are You Amusing Yourself to Death?
In Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argued presciently 36 years ago that television was reshaping our culture and trivializing public life—news, politics, religion, education, and business—by turning it into entertainment. He warned that we would become so inundated with irrelevant information that we’d lose sight of what was important—even worse, we wouldn’t care as long as we felt entertained. With the proliferation of digital media today and worries about excessive “screen time,” his analysis still resonates.
Here are some Amusing Ourselves to Death discussion questions:
How Much Do You Read?
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Americans were serious readers and thinkers. They read widely and attended public lectures and debates that delved into public issues in depth. Literacy was essential to participating in public life.
- How much and what do you read in a typical week? Why do you read?
- What public issue would you be able to discuss in-depth, including context, history, and implications? How did you learn about this topic?
- Which are you more inclined to believe—what you read or what you hear? Why?
Are You Well-Informed?
Neil Postman argues that Americans are well entertained but poorly informed because the news we receive is fragmented, incoherent, and selected for its entertainment value. In addition, we don’t question it.
- Where do you get most of your news? Why do you use this medium?
- Could the form in which you receive that information be a problem? Why or why not?
- What does being well-informed mean to you? How could you be better informed?
Are We Headed for a Brave New World?
Neil Postman argued that we may be headed for a Brave New World scenario where entertainment technology rather than democracy is becoming our ideology. To regain control we need to question how technology affects our thinking.
- What does democracy mean to you? What are its foundations?
- Do the media you use most build on or erode democracy? Do they make you a better or worse citizen? How?
- How do these technologies free you and constrain you?
- How can you control your technology rather than being controlled by it?
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Here's what you'll find in our full Amusing Ourselves to Death summary:
- How television reshaped our culture and trivialized public life by turning it into entertainment
- Why America is moving towards a dystopian, Huxleyan future
- What you can do to gain control over the technology in your life