Today is the birthday of social critic and media ecologist Neil Postman…
In his most prominent book Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Postman described vividly the crumbling capacity for conversation in American society, a reality that has only expanded in the 30+ years since this book was published.
Here are 5 important passages from Amusing Ourselves to Death on the breakdown of conversation…
How Americans Talk
“An American,” [Tocqueville] wrote, “cannot converse, but he can discuss, and his talk falls into a dissertation. He speaks to you as if he was addressing a meeting; and if he should chance to become warm in the discussion, he will say ‘Gentlemen’ to the person with whom he is conversing.” This odd practice is less a reflection of an American’s obstinacy than of his modeling his conversational style on the structure of the printed word. Since the printed word is impersonal and is addressed to an invisible audience, what Tocqueville is describing here is a kind of printed orality, which was observable in diverse forms of oral discourse. … [I aim] to explore how the press worked as a metaphor and an epistemology to create serious and rational public conversation, from which we have now been so dramatically separated.
- pages 41-43
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