Several years ago I skim-read a book by Neil Postman provocatively entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. It described the influence of television culture on public discourse, showing how it shortened attention spans and created a popular demand to be incessantly entertained. Now, with both thumbs firmly engaged in the Internet age, it strikes me that this book's thesis and particularly its title are prophetic.
Think of it: Postman wrote before the advent of reality TV, which has blurred the line between entertainment and the entertained. We now watch "people just like us" on TV, subjected to all sorts of humiliating situations. "American Idol" certainly leads the charge--and MTV's "Jersey Shore" plumbs the depths--of such reputed entertainment. I've also noticed that reality TV has extended many people's 15 minutes of fame. Now, questionable "entertainers" like Snooky (what a name!) become household names, while persons with limited or no talent at all (Paris Hilton comes to mind) become pop icons.
But think of this, too: Postman also wrote before the advent of the Internet, texting, and smart phones with multiple apps. We now have the capability of plugging into entertainment (if it can be called that) 24/7. Our noses buried in screens, we grow addicted to pixellated stimulation and many of us find ourselves rushing to check scores, emails, tweets, Facebook live feed, news and much else whenever we feel a hint of boredom or the need to unwind. And whatever other discretionary time we have is whiled away with such gripping games as "Angry Birds".
My fear, and the fear voiced by an increasing chorus of the concerned, is that we're now raising a generation of people who will never know the joy of a good book by a fireplace...or a quiet walk in the woods...or the focused discipline of writing an actual letter...or the joy of getting a thoughtful letter from a loved one...or even the sustained sharpening of a spirited debate with a friend. Thanks to our ubiquitous technology our information base grows wider by the second...but are we becoming shallower at the same rate? I wonder and I worry, to be honest. Especially as I share in the raising of my two sons.
I like my iPhone as much as the next person. But I've also enjoyed re-reading a series of novels lately. It's wonderfully relaxing to find my mind engaged and entertained at the same time--in a way that digital technology has yet to do. I'd be interested in your thoughts? Am I terribly old-school?