Amusing Ourselves Out of Our Manhood

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 1, 2009 · 119 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

“How television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails. As typography once dictated the style of conducting politics, religion, business, education, law and other important social matters, television now takes command. In courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms, board rooms, churches, and even airplanes, Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.” -Neil Postman

In Neil Postman’s influential book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, he explored the impact “of the most significant American cultural fact of the second half of the twentieth century: the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television.” Postman convincingly argued that the medium greatly influences the message, that certain means of communication can only deliver certain content, and that the style, format, and delivery of that content greatly shapes our culture.

It’s not something we take stock of very often, if at all, but our language and our communication tools shape the way we think about the world. A Russian will never see the world exactly the way a American will, because they have different words to describe it. And a culture that uses smoke signals to communicate will never see the world the same as those who use cell phones. Postman argued:

“Whether we are experiencing the world through the lens of speech or the printed word or the television camera, our media-metaphors classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, color it, argue a case for what the world is like.”

Postman’s book was written in 1982 and since then our modes of communication have taken a huge leap forward. For many people these days, their primary form of communication, entertainment, and information gathering occurs on the internet. Postman lamented that in his time, no one was paying sufficient attention to the way that new technology was changing our social and intellectual culture. Certainly that is as true as ever. We talk a lot about this new information age, but we don’t spend too much time pondering how it’s changing our lives.

People have lamented changes in our means of communication ever since we shifted from an oral culture to a written culture. Each new change brings cries that the new medium will bring about the end of civilization as we know it. Yet in time we generally come to see that each leap forward in technology brings with it both pros and cons, sometimes leaving the balance sheet in the black, sometimes in the red.

And so it is with the internet. It is a powerful good. Far more good than bad I would argue. It has given the average person access to more information than at any time in world history. With a few keystrokes I can learn about the Battle of Thebes or watch a lecture from a world renowned professor. We can communicate instantly with friends and family. The world is our oyster.

But no medium is an unmitigated good. The internet is changing the way we learn and communicate, in some ways for the worse. The internet can be used as an effective tool in our lives, or we can fall into the following traps and allow ourselves to be amused right out of our manhood.

The Atrophying of Attention Span

Our brethren in the 19th century thought spending 7 hours listening to the Lincoln-Douglas debates was a delightful way to spend the day. They were willing to sit and soak in 7 hours of heavy political philosophy and policy, without being able to check their Blackberries a single time. That kind of singular rapture is inconceivable now. Instead, we live in what Postman called a “peek-a-boo” world where we constantly expect and demand new things to pop up and surprise and entertain us.

Postman said the phrase, “now…this” was one of the scariest phrases in our language. He was referring to the way the phrase allows newscasters to jump between two completely unrelated stories, as in “A terrible earthquake killed 10,000 people today in Taiwan. Now…this. A koala bear was born at the zoo!”

Postman said:

“The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously.” Each story is “separated in content, context, and emotional texture from what precedes and follows it….viewers are rarely required to carry over any thought or feeling from one parcel of time to another.”

News shows are put together to appeal to our impatience-each story runs a minute or less before the anchor “now this-es” us into the next story. This quick flitting from one thing to another did a doozy on our attentions spans when the newscasters were solely in control of the “now..this.” Now we are in control, able to surf from one story and from one website to another is mere seconds. If something does not grab us immediately, it’s off to something else. We don’t even watch whole shows anymore; instead of watching Saturday Night Live, we watch the best clips of it online; instead of watching the news, we watch clips of the news as satirized in clips from The Daily Show.

“While brevity does not always suggest triviality, in this case it clearly does. It is simply not possible to convey a sense of seriousness about any event if its implications are exhausted in less than one minute’s time.”

Internet readers thus demand bite-sized, easily digestible information. It has become blogging gospel that posts should be no longer than a paragraph or two. We made a conscious decision when we started the Art of Manliness to buck this trend, figuring that along with the other things we’d try to bring back from the past, we ought to include the attention span. After all, if a topic is important enough to write about then it should be important enough to do well, and to cover comprehensively.

The Narrowing of Man’s Worldview

Whenever we have a controversial post here on AoM, I’m always dismayed by one kind of comment: the person that announces that because they disagree with or don’t like the article, they are unsubscribing from site. Now I’m not dismayed by these kinds of comments because I’m worried about the fate of AoM; the site is doing just fine. No, I find these kinds of comments alarming because of how indicative they are of a more general and wholly disappointing cultural trend. They vividly reveal the way in which many men in today’s society truly believe that the world revolves around them.

Unsubscribing from a blog because you disagree with a single article absolutely befuddles me. In what universe could any publication whether it be a blog, newspaper, magazine, or television show possibly produce daily content that exactly aligns with one’s own interests? And the more important question is, why would you want it to?

During the early days of the internet, the web was heralded as a new kind of forum, a place where the free exchange of ideas would be unrestricted and people could interact and engage with all sorts of opinions and views. Unfortunately, what has happened is that the internet has instead been used to form narrower and narrower communities, smaller and smaller niches of like-minded individuals who enjoy having their preconceived notions confirmed and their egos stroked.

Such an approach to life would leave our forbearers rolling over in their graves. Whether in the French salons or the American juntos, men of old actively sought out the opinions of those who disagreed with them and used these interactions to have a spirited but respectful debate about the issues. Traveling lectures were some of the most popular sources of entertainment, and a speaker would be allowed 3 hours to make his case. Another speaker would then be given the same amount of time to give a rebuttal. People did not leave after the speaker with which they agreed had finished; they equally relished hearing the counterargument. They understood that the intellect is not built simply with the things we are already preconceived to like, and that that which infuriates us can be just as good, sometimes even  better, for the mind.

The Trivialization of Information

“For telegraphy did something that Morse did not foresee…it destroyed the prevailing definition of information, and in doing so gave a new meaning to public discourse. Among the few who understood this consequence was Henry David Thoreau, who remarked in Walden that ‘We are in a great haste to construct magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate…We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.’ Thoreau, as it turned out, was precisely correct. He grasped that the telegraph would create its own definition of discourse…The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence. These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity.” -Postman

Postman argued that the medium of television was inadequate for serious, rational communication. He did not believe it was impossible, simply that the medium was not conducive to it. Television’s highest priority is to win viewers, and the easiest way to this is to appeal to short attention spans with entertaining fluff. The priority had to be on entertainment, not education.

The internet has only accelerated this trend. Every site is in competition for clicks, and has quickly discovered that “New photos of Megan Fox!” gets many more clicks than “Bomb Explosion in Iraq.” Further, knowing that the reader is antsy and will quickly move from one thing to another, leads websites to post only the briefest outlines of a story. When there is so much choice available, each site must make themselves attractive by offering the shortest, fluffiest content possible. The result is a sea of trivial information, each bit disconnected from the other and lacking context. What Postman said of the telegraph equally applies to the internet:

“Telegraphy also made public discourse essentially incoherent. It brought into being a world of broken time and broken attention…The principal strength of the telegraph was its capacity to move information, not collect it, explain it or analyze it.”

The result of the trivial, fragmentary information on the internet is that depth of knowledge has been exchanged for breadth of knowledge. We know every detail of the recent Tiger Woods drama, we know what our friend Mike had for breakfast and why Jane’s having a bad day, but how many of us know and understand the details of Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan? And so that is how we communicate off-line as well. Instead of trading viewpoints on health care with our friends, we show each other the latest clips from Family Guy and keyboard cat.

Conclusion

I’m no Luddite (it would be hard to pull off being one and being a blogger). And I love the internet. It allowed a guy like me to start a new men’s magazine with virtually no start up costs, just some ideas and elbow grease. I love how easy it is to find out anything I want to know about any subject. And I love being able to connect to people around the world. I simply think that like every tool, the internet must be used with care. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment at all, and everybody needs a little Christian side hug in their day. And we here at AoM like to do posts that are just for fun sometimes too. It’s simply a matter of balance and moderation. A man must be careful to avoid gorging on a diet of strictly fluff. Not only does it starve the mind and spirit, but it colors our off-line lives as well. We want everything immediately and easily. We want the world and the people in it to align with our interests. We are unable to focus on things that can’t be surfed away from. When we fill ours lives with the merely trivial, we can neglect the things that really matter, the values and relationships that challenge us and cannot be attained with a click of the mouse.

“What I suggest here as a solution is what Aldous Huxley suggested, as well…For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.”

Source: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment box.

{ 119 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tanner December 1, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Brett this is a great post. This is exactly why I love AOM. Some of the things you post about – like this one – are hard to swallow and admit my guilt in. But they’re so good for me to work on. Keep it up.

2 Shaun December 1, 2009 at 7:37 pm

I only read the first couple of paragraphs, but it seems like a great article ;)

Seriously though, one of the reasons that I keep coming back to AoM is that there’s a bit of meat to it, instead of just a 3 second snack. Likewise with the Community…I don’t tend to agree with a lot of what people say, but I find it engaging to see what it is that people are passionate about. Differences of opinion are what make this an interesting world, and we should all try more to seek out these differences and interact with them, rather than just looking for easy things that lull us into a social coma.

3 Ed Wheeler December 1, 2009 at 7:37 pm

“A noble man compares and estimates himself by an idea which is higher than himself; and a mean man, by one lower than himself. The one produces aspiration; the other ambition, which is the way in which a vulgar man aspires.” – Marcus Aurelius

4 Lee December 1, 2009 at 7:39 pm

I just started reading this site after hearing about the book, and I immediately subscribed to the RSS and this post confirms my need to read. I really like Postman’s point about how “the telegraph would create its own definition of discourse” and I think that has extended through to the internet and cell phones. With text and instant messaging, people just need to say enough to get their points across. Spelling and correct grammar are often overlooked. The same could be said of e-mail. I always try to make it a point to clearly express myself to others using proper English as best I know how and reviewing what I send prior to sending it.

5 Matt December 1, 2009 at 8:09 pm

Cliffs?

Just kidding. Good article, and rings very true. As I type this I have facebook on the tab next to me and I am watching the Presidential address at the same time. Sometimes we don’t really think about how we absorb information, and how little of that we actually do absorb.

When I was driving my bus in Montana I’d often get people asking questions about the mountains, or the roads, etc. We would joke that we could answer in any way we chose, as long as we spoke about it confidently. The people just wanted to ask and then have someone tell them something with confidence – if we asked them the same question at the end of the tour they would hardly remember – A mere few hours after.

In the end, it is up to the individual to make the choice to continue their education past what we are more-or-less forced to attend in our youth…

6 Chris Dolph December 1, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I rather enjoyed reading this. I’ve been ready for a few weeks now to throw my tv’s (all five) out. I just feel that it sucks the life out of me everytime. Even the networks that I used to enjoy for the sake of learning (i.e the history channel) now play total garbage. Since when did watching the inner workings of a pawn shop become history? However, I do enjoy watching a good PBS documentary or C-SPAN (yes, I’m that lame).

7 Silas Reinagel December 1, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Great post! I thought it oddly coincidental that you read Amusing Ourselves To Death, since I did just the same thing a couple of months ago. Critical thinking and rational debate are definitely less prevalent and less valued in the modern culture, which has made us, as a nation, dumber. We have become obsessed with trivia, rather than informed about reality, and all the while we have done so to our own detriment.

I also appreciate that you took a look at the internet, and how the newest medium has changed and shaped the way we receive, analyze and organize information. A couple of months ago I had some similar thoughts and made a post about how blogs help us reverse the trend of the television age and in some small ways, ameliorate the problem it brought.

http://silasreinagel.blogspot.com/2009/09/triviality-of-decontextualized.html

8 Rob December 1, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Very good article! This is the sort of wisdom that has been lost with time, and only a few seek it out. Thank you for a great article, I love AoM!

9 anton December 1, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Your point is well made, not only has communication suffered but, with it, so has the ability to think. It is almost as if we have willingly agreed to use Orwell’s Newspeak from 1984. The constant dumbing-down of discourse leaves people struggling to coherently express themselves (mayhap that is why they seem to be so angry so often?) and they give up on complicated ideas and go back to watching reruns of Family Guy.

I find that the best way to quickly appraise the mental weight of a household is to scan it for books. Unlike television books require effort, concentration and a commitment of time. A house crowded with books of all types points toward a resident(s) that has a well-rounded outlook, lively imagination and a well-developed understanding of the language. Conversely, the household with a 72″ television, recliners with cup-holders built into the arms and a well-thumbed TV guide leaves me with little hope of an evening well spent.

The Internet swings both ways, on one hand there is the vacuum of Facebook and it’s ilk, in the other there are sites like “AoM” and Richard Fernandez’s “The Belmont Club”. The greatest problem is that it is really all things to all people all of the time; diamonds and brilliance mixed with idiocy and sewage and the user is stuck trying to sort through it all. The user must discipline himself, the tool must not be the master.

10 Phillip Serradell December 1, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Thank you for the post(man).

You know – I think there is an unconscious suspicion among a lot of folks that this whole techo-society is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I think a lot of people are just exhausted from 24 hour/7 day a week/400 channels of numb/dumb “entertainments”. Personally, I couldn’t bring myself to watch ANY political news television for about 8 months after the election last year. When I DID happen to flip it back on, I saw the same crap – The faces had just changed (in some cases).

Also, and more importantly, all of this stuff – Television, video games, mobile phones, etc – All of it came out in a relatively short period of time before it would be determined how it would effect us mentally, physically and socially. And it’s in the hands of children! We have a generation of young men (and women) being shaped by a manufactured and glamorous world of media and they believe that THAT is reality.

This is a hard subject to tackle but there needs to be some dialogue.

11 Gabriel December 1, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Honestly, this is just an extension of Marshall McLuhen’s work. It’s interesting, and it’s all very true, but Postman was certainly not the first to talk about it. He just focused on the dawn of Television.

12 anton December 1, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Ed Wheeler, love the Marcus Aurelius quote, I have a copy of his Meditations that I have been carrying around for the last thirty-five years. There is a lot of wisdom in that slim volume.

13 Nicholas December 1, 2009 at 9:34 pm

I read Neil Postman’s Technopoly years ago. I’ve always liked his perspicacity, and among the field of authors who critique “post-modernity”, he’s always seemed to have a more grounded and clear voice.
Great article. I’m new to the site, but one perusal, and I’m going to come back. I couldn’t agree more with much of what has been said in the article, and have been tearing myself back from media immersion as of late. It’s not only a challenge to discipline. It’s lonely! But I’m meeting others, here and there, who prefer an evening with electronics turned off.
By the way, My first step away from media immersion was to curtail texting to purely pragmatic and spartan use. I consider texts to be “notes on the fridge”. Anyone who gets to know me finds my curiously unreachable for conversation via text.
It’s amazing how hard it is to bring some people to CALL. Even with a digital phone. Text, tweet, email, sure. But call? It’s like trying to shake hands with someone in a restroom.

14 Jonathan December 1, 2009 at 9:36 pm

One of the reasons I love the internet is that on it I can find the background information and substance that TV lacks. Users have to actively seek content on the Internet, instead of being mindlessly feed by TV networks.

A fantastic article which is probably only preaching to the converted. As many people will find it too long to read right through.

15 Seth McCormick December 1, 2009 at 9:37 pm

I very much enjoyed reading this article, and agree that we live in an age in which people’s attention spans are becoming dangerously brief. (I, of course, am no exception to this, and I struggle to focus on a daily basis.)

I would like to add, however, that I think this tendency has not only led people to neglect the ideas with which they do not agree, but also to think less deeply and complexly in general. As best I can tell, it seems that an ever greater number of people struggle when pressed to explain why they hold any particular view.

16 nathan miller December 1, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Good article. In my AP Language and Composition we are discussing a lot of the same things, but under the moniker of ‘modes of communication.’ Communication can be broken into three modes: Orality, Literacy, and Secondary Orality. Orality is oral culture, without writing and where everything is based on relationship and role. Literacy becomes the main mode of communication with the printing press and favors logic. Secondary orality is stored performance, telegraph and television. Secondary orality is hitting its critical mass with the widespread use of the Internet.
Most of these ideas come from Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy ( http://www.amazon.com/Orality-Literacy-New-Accents-Walter/dp/0415281296/ ) and Sven Birket’s Gutenberg Elegies ( http://www.amazon.com/Gutenberg-Elegies-Fate-Reading-Electronic/dp/0449910091 )
I do not believe at all that the transition from Literacy to Secondary Orality (or as Postman puts it Typography to Television) is a cause for fear or will be the doom of civilization just as the transition from Orality to Literacy was not. It is the future and already the brains of many people function best through Secondary Orality. Sure they have short attention spans, but that does mean they are bad people.
Each person has a different preferred mode of communication. People that succeed at communicating know how to use all three modes in given circumstance, even if they don’t know that is what they are doing.
I find it interesting to point out that the Manliness this blog is so interesting in is a very Oral idea. Being a Man (in the sense this blog pursues) is a role. And with that role comes rules and expected relationships. That is not to say that I think this blog favors Orality. The existence of articles and use of analysis is a clear sign of Literacy. You are logically examining what it is to be a Man. And because the pros outweigh the cons, you’ve come to the conclusion that being a Man is something to pursue. But this Literary perspective on an Oral phenomenon exists in a medium in the world of Secondary Orality.
So congratulations, you are successful at communication!

17 Shawn December 1, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Here here! *bangs cane appreciatively on the floor*

18 Patrick Ouzts December 1, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Look at the word “amused.” The prefix “a” means “the opposite of,” and the word “muse” means to think. And so, we often want to be amused or without thought. Turning the brain off is the whole purpose for sit coms and tv. Yes, sometimes we need a little down time, but all too often men need to engage their brain more. As a former teacher, I actually think the public eduction system is largely at fault. For 35+ years, students have been conditioned to choose a, b, c, or d as quickly as possible without explanation. Learning to ask why is a crucial skill of manliness.

19 Cody Erekson December 1, 2009 at 10:46 pm

Great article. I appreciate this site a bit more each day.

The problem has been thoroughly identified and discussed. I think there is little more to be said about what is wrong. The next step then, is to come to a solution.

I’d like to hear some discussion on this. I consider it to be part of my civic duty to know what’s going on in the world. I do this by, rather than going to CNN.com and listening to Rush all the time, but rather perusing Congressional Records, reading transcripts of debates, and police reports…where possible. What else can we do to deepen ourselves and remove the “fluff” from our lives?

20 Helen South December 1, 2009 at 10:50 pm

Great article! I must admit, I had to force myself to slow down and read it properly – I’m so in the habit of skimming web pages. Thanks for reminding me about Postman’s excellent book. The comments about people ‘entertaining each other’ rather than conversing are so true: it’s one of the reasons that I ditched cable TV, because I hated the way the tweenage shows my daughter watched modeled non-conversation: the characters just shout one-liners at each other.

I miss the vigorous intellectual discussion we used to have at university. Most discussion I’ve found on the internet is little more than refined trolling – true two-sided debate is very rare; it’s either that, or passers-by dropping in their 2c and moving on.

I think, Seth, that part of the reason that we don’t think as deeply anymore is the constant background noise. We always have some activity – books, radio, television, games, internet-browsing – to occupy our attention. Thought requires the absence of input, time to simply ruminate.

21 Dave Findlay December 1, 2009 at 11:25 pm

That’s it, Brett!! I’m unsubscribing!!
Just kidding.

“Unfortunately, what has happened is that the internet has instead been used to form narrower and narrower communities, smaller and smaller niches of like-minded individuals who enjoy having their preconceived notions confirmed and their egos stroked.”

Ain’t that the truth — everybody pays lip service to the idea of intellectual diversity, but almost nobody searches the web to find somebody who thinks totally different to themselves — they want people who agree with them …

22 Paul Williams @ Provident Planning December 1, 2009 at 11:26 pm

@Jonathan (#13):

“A fantastic article which is probably only preaching to the converted. As many people will find it too long to read right through.”

That’s exactly what I was thinking!

I feel the effects of this trend in our society when I write on my website. I fear that no one will read my articles if I make them too long, so I break up topics into several smaller posts when they should be addressed in a single post. Even then, I feel like my articles are still too long compared to most other blogs because they often go 1200-2000 words – which is not very long in reality.

We’re limiting our ability to deal with ideas thoroughly and honestly for no good reason at all.

23 digital_dreamer December 1, 2009 at 11:28 pm

I did a Google search for “New photos of Megan Fox!” and was directed here. Kidding!
I actually don’t think she’s attractive at all, but to each his own.

Great article. Don’t have a TV, but do teh Intertubes thingy. I agree it can be a serious time waster and I must put forth a serious effect to manage my time more effectively.

Now…this Oh, got email. Gotta go! :-P

regards,
MAJ

24 Drew December 2, 2009 at 12:40 am

One of the best blog posts I’ve read in a while. I just discovered AoM today and I will definitely be coming back soon. Thanks for sharing.

25 Irish Tony December 2, 2009 at 4:45 am

Not sure if any of you have seen the following McMillen cartoon but it illustrates the point very well.

http://www.recombinantrecords.net/docs/2009-05-Amusing-Ourselves-to-Death.html

26 ThomsonsPier December 2, 2009 at 6:51 am

A fine article, there; the most thoughtful for a while, I think.

As regards television, I concur with the position adopted in the text; pastimes have moved from the nurture of thought to mindless spectacle. This can’t necessarily be blamed solely on the limitations of the technology, though; a visual medium is perfectly capable of presenting fine argument in the same way as text. The broadcast ethic is part of what’s creating this feedback loop of entertainment production and consumption as the networks in control of it feed the beast to generate money. Programming of a thought-provoking nature tends to be ousted in short order in favour of mindless viewing.

On the view of the internet here presented, I also agree, but take a far more optimistic stance. With a mind to extolling this alternative, I offer this short essay from Douglas Adams of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (that wholly remarkable book) fame: http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/19990901-00-a.html

I do think the emergence of the internet as a pervasive entity is partly responsible for the further dumbing-down of television; it’s a mine of information on which answer can be found, (sometimes even the correct one) and as such far better suited to acquiring information than television, a one-way medium. This is, however, leading to a real world where people no longer need to learn things in depth to hack together a solution to a problem, and solving problems, rather than learning for learning’s sake, seems to be the mode of operation for the current world. Or is it? In much the same way as I decry the view of those folk who bemoan the way the youth are destroying the language and failing to develop a deep understanding of anything, I think the damage is overstated. There is a lot of noise on the web and, much as in life, ninety percent of it is made by the vocal majority, and ninety percent of everything is precisely what Theodore Sturgeon said it was.

Those producing useful work are still doing so, and will continue to do so by using whatever new tools they find useful. Those who are indolent will use the same tools to amuse themselves (thank you to Patrick Ouzts’ post above, which led me to think of the word roots there) and bring the price down through volume. There has always been a level at which the general populace exists and a number of outliers at the top of each field where progress happens; there will be no idiocracy because there will always be a core of people who are smarter than average, or who work harder, or are more focused (or more manly). The choice now available means that people have a better chance of finding something that interests them and in which they can excel, growing the core of thinkers and doers.

People used to have to jump through often expensive hoops to get their words to the masses, and proof-readers, copy-editors and political agendas provided extra hindrance along the way. Now, with the advent of the internet (as mentioned in the article), they can cheaply put their creative ideas to the world. I don’t believe this has resulted in any real change, just a more representative sample. Those who are working toward something they deem of value continue onward and make little noise whilst doing so. Those making the noise we see every day on the internet at large are, at least, learning how to think.

27 Pipp December 2, 2009 at 6:55 am

Excellent article and reminds me of an experiment we did at home last summer. One week, no TV, no radio and no Internet surfing. Obviously an allowance was made for work related internet use. But no surfing around for anything else. You would be surprised what you get done when you don’t have all this crap coming at you all the time. It is easy to do when you are out camping but that one week at home is oddly also very challenging. I really challenge you to give it a test!

28 John Capello December 2, 2009 at 7:03 am

Bravo, I was impressed by the article. Being a soldier, a lot of us had to learn how to talk to people all over again. You see, even though we have access to the internet and TV on our larger bases overseas, in other smaller locations, we have almost no contact with the outside world, or limited contact. This has forced many of us to learn to talk to each other in order to “entertain” ourselves. I found when I came home after my first tour, I really had no interest in watching TV or doing much surfing. I wanted to walk and talk. To find out what I had missed in my family’s lives. Something my family had to learn to deal with. Of course, over time, I slowly converting back to the way I had been before. But now, as I near the end of yet another tour, I have moved back into the talking, discussing, albeit conversing mode and find that I enjoy it. Again, while home on leave, my family had to deal with it. But I find that TV offers little in the way of entertainment that I really want to watch. A lot of it is mindless images that we watch because there’s nothing better on. I think this time I’ll “endeavor to persevere” and keep conversations in our home.
I’ve always liked that quote. I love AoM and think it has arrived at a point in time where it is truly needed. Keep up the good work.
Best Regards,
John

29 Jason Maupin December 2, 2009 at 7:39 am

I have been a subscriber to the AOM blog for quite sometime now. I love your blog, its very needed especially in todays society. I am a motivational speaker and I speak to thousands of youth around the world. The “man” has taken a backseat to “life” and to our shame women have had to pick up our lack. This blog is a great kick in the pants for guys to get moving, pick up our sword and get to swinging!

As far as the above blog goes, I couldn’t agree more. I agree that technology is needed, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing a response to this blog. However I feel that we have become a slave to technology. Time and time again I see youth of this generation that would rather play a fantasy game rather than go fishing or enjoy “life.” I have come to the conclusion that its because their “fantasy life” is better than their “real life”. Its rather disheartening… God help us.

As far as people unsubscribing because they were “offended” by a blog, I will defer to one of my favorite quotes by a Native American named Black Elk. “Its in the darkness of our eyes that men become lost.”

AOM keep up the great work!
Jason

30 Chris O'Brien December 2, 2009 at 8:00 am

First heard of Postman through Neal Gabler’s book Life:The Movie which I heard of from Don Henley on Storytellers before he sang Dirty Laundry,
“We got the bubbleheaded bleach-blonde, comes on at 5
She can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry.”

Great post! Keep up the excellent work!

31 Brendan December 2, 2009 at 8:30 am

Excellent article. I just finished a book that also looked at this change in communication and it’s impact on what we believe. The book is called “Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith” by Shane Hipps.

In his book Hipps expands on ideas introduced by Marshal McLuhan in 1964. Most of his ideas come out of the advertising world and show the impact of visual media.

Thank you so much for this magazine that you put together. It is a combination of fun and informative ideas that runs askew of so much of what is communicated in the world today.

32 T Magnus December 2, 2009 at 8:31 am

Thanks for the post, a regular reader as I am, I rarely post here. But this is one of the finest piece in AoM and I take liberty to share it with friends on facebook. Everyone should made aware of the rapid change in information technology and how it affects our lives. Most people don,t but some that do, could make a big leap in life for the former, like you just did. Awareness is a good thing, constant awareness is utmost important.

33 Benjamin December 2, 2009 at 8:45 am

Could this staging of the world be taken quite litterally? It seems that in modern society we are persuaded to either take the stage, or sit back and watch without much participation. Television seems to reward the audience simply for being present, without having to be bothered by a critical mind and preferably without any need of foreknowledge on the subjectmatter. And even worse is the culture of rewarding people for taking the stage without much consideration for what they actually accomplish there.
And although internet requires a great deal more of participation and investment than television, the same principles seem to persist. It is as though it revolves mostly around voyeurisme and exhibitionisme. Communicate as much as you possibly can on yourself, even if it is of no actual relevance to anyone else. And indiscriminately follow every move of a celebrity, because the rest of the world is doing so.
Another thing to note is that expertise is not often valued, and amateurism prevails. When you pleed for a case it does not matter if youre arguments are any relevant, only if your message is heard and repeated. Same goes for what society validates as important, not what is relevant to our lives, but rather what dominates in google search terms.
Anonimity could be argued to be one of the banalising or polarising factors of modern debate. When a strong opinion is vented on to an internet-forum there is seldom room for nuance, wich isn’t surprising trying to communicate on complicated matters in just a 140 characters. And since there is no context, no person to take into account, just a strong opinion, poorly, if at all, argumented, the only possible answer can only polarise the debate even further. The way public debate (on television but even in newspapers) is organised isn’t all that different from angry internet-forum rantings.

This said there are obvious benefits to modern communication technologies, and they may well exceed the downsides. Seeing the discussions going on on this site reaffirms my belief that if not all is well, not all is terrible either.

Great cartoon by the way.

In reaction to the post on similarity with Marshall McLuhan: Wasn’t he in fact best known for his prediction of the effects of television on society? The main difference with Postman seems (to my knowledge and understanding) that McLuhan didn’t evaluate but merely tried te explain and predict evolutions without determining if their effects were either good or bad. (Please do correct me if I’m wrong).

34 Ellis December 2, 2009 at 8:48 am

Very thoughtful post. Although it definitely has it’s deficiencies, I wonder if there is some merit to our new soundbite society? Perhaps, we can process more information, but less deeply?

35 Darrell December 2, 2009 at 8:50 am

Great article about a well-written book on a timely topic.

I read Postman’s book last summer and was amazed at how far-reaching his vision is. I wondered what his thoughts would be in the rise of the Internet and by crackey I found an interview from 1995 where he discusses exactly that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49rcVQ1vFAY

36 Daniel H. December 2, 2009 at 8:53 am

Thanks, Brett and Kate, for another thought-provoking post. It also brought to mind your comments during the “30 Day” challenge about memorization. Given how easy it now is to access information, sometimes I wonder how much of that information actually sticks in my brain.

For readers interested in a related article, I suggest this piece from the July/August 2008 issue of “The Atlantic,” titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

@ Patrick Ouzts (#16): interesting proposal about the etymology of ‘amuse,’ but I’m familiar with a different story. Rather than ‘a’ being a negative prefix and ‘muse’ expressing ‘to think,’ the etymology I’ve heard is that our word ‘amuse’ is of French origin, from ‘amuser.’ The ‘a’ expresses ‘at’ or ‘to’ (in a causal sense) and ‘muser’ means ‘to ponder, stare stupidly.’ `Amuse’ would then mean something like `to cause to ponder, stare stupidly.’ This might be equivalent to not thinking (in some sense), but via a slightly different etymology.

37 Travis Hellstrom December 2, 2009 at 9:01 am

Thanks for a great article, it’s a very nice reminder that we should time on those things that are truly important to us.

38 Matt Maestas December 2, 2009 at 9:26 am

Simply Brilliant!

39 TR December 2, 2009 at 9:43 am

I think part of the problem lies in the fact that the life of the “modern man” is so tied to the computer. Even a blue collar gentleman has to spend some time in the day answering e-mail, so in some sense they’re still as tied to the computer as their white collar brothers that glue to the screen for hours a day. A part of me wishes that we could all experience time, like Mr. Capello above, where we don’t even have the option. It forces us to think and live differently. I have friends that have a computer for only the programs on the computer. They don’t have internet access. Instead, they go to the local library once a week to check their e-mail and surf. If research is required, again, they go to the library. I think the time limit on the computers puts an emphasis on getting the job done, as well. When you have a clock ticking down, you really can’t divert your attention from the primary goal to browse superfluous things. Thus, while many professions require the use of the internet, I think limiting it at home is a good step. I’m not saying that every person should scrap the internet, but rather, they should make an effort to get away from it unless they absolutely need to use it. Y’know, go take a walk or do something with your hands like building or repairing or even practicing and instrument. Pull out and old chess board and challenge your family. Do things the way they used to be accomplished before utilizing the computer was even and option.

40 Neil Desai December 2, 2009 at 9:51 am

I absolutely loved this article. In today’s society people no longer think. Everything must be a gratifying process or else no one does it. As a college student I firmly believe that future of my generation and generations to come lies in the men (and women) who are willing to think and work hard. I’m highly disturbed by the culture of dumbing down everything into bite sized portions.

41 Brian Lukowski December 2, 2009 at 9:58 am

Kudos to all the AOM posters!

This is first blog/email response forum I have encountered that could post dozens of responses that stayed on topic, where succinct in their arguments, contributed pertinent additional information/links, and maintained a respect for other members’ opinions that is laudable.

How many sites have you encountered where after the first four or five intelligent posts the responses descended into the “you’re stupid…no…your stupid…” series of exchanges on the forum often lasting 10-15 posts!

It is clear to me that the people involved in this AOM experience have their ‘moral codes’ firmly developed, their manners securely embedded, and their thirst for knowledge and truth unquenched.

I feel privileged to be a part of this community.

Regrads,
Brian

42 Joe DeGiorgio December 2, 2009 at 9:58 am

Another excellent post Brett/Kate: this is the reason I have subscribed to this site. The content is always great. A couple of takeaways:

1) Without question, we live in a “peek a boo” world. Although I had a short attention span when I was a teenager, now my teenager proves daily how much more quickly we may move from one thing to the next. I have to remind myself constantly to not do this, and concentrate fully on the task/work/fun at hand.

2) People unsubscribe from a blog because they disagree with something? Who does this? Half the fun of reading blog entries is the possibility you may disagree with the author…for the most part, however, that doesn’t happen for me here.

Love this blog…keep it up!

43 MGH December 2, 2009 at 10:00 am

I suppose it is telling that I had trouble actually reading this article and only wanted so skim it. :(

44 Logan Monday December 2, 2009 at 10:00 am

I just joined the site last week but this article confirms why I did so. Great job!

45 Thomas More December 2, 2009 at 10:18 am

I think this is probably the best article I’ve read here since I’ve been visiting this site (about a year).

46 Rick Scoutmaster December 2, 2009 at 10:18 am

Much of this blog and responses points to a fundamental Truth, a keystone of life:
IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES
This concept has become a great tool as part of my matrix that I use for decision making. It is inescapable. Who I hang with, what I read/watch, the goals I choose or don’t, what daily attitude I choose, or default to, these ideas are what moves the rudder of my ship, directing the path of my life. We can’t directly steer our own ship, I must choose the ideas, and they, inexplicably, get me to the destination I desire.
In my purpose of making a difference in my small sphere, I get to witness this in action. In our Boy Scout troop, about 25% of the boys, after a few years, start thinking about what kind of man they want to be…when I see that in a boy, I smile and know my work is done.

47 Loris December 2, 2009 at 10:25 am

@Dave Findlay, you’re right when you say that almost nobody looks for differing opinions on the Internet. I’ve been guilty, so I’ve been making an effort to read sites to see how several “other halves” live. I’m white, but I read The Root for fodder to discuss with my black work friends. I’m conservative, but I read several liberal commentary sites. I want to know how other groups think, and why. My opinions haven’t really changed as a result of this exercise, but it’s nice to know now that I’m not just knee-jerking.

48 Frank December 2, 2009 at 10:32 am

I agree that people likely have shorter attention spans today than they did in the past. But, we don’t know to what degree spectators of the Lincoln-Douglas debates paid attention during all 7 hours. Perhaps they were just as distracted, but with things other than pdas. They were, however, patient enough to sit there for 7 hours. Why? Because they probably had no other choices for entertainment. So even part of the 7 hour debate bored them to tears, what other sources of entertainment could they turn to? Moreover, life seemed more simple. The people of that era probably weren’t worried about working on the weekends, or after 5pm, or their kids’ soccer practice, etc. My understand of that time period, albeit based on high-school history classes, was that men worked, women stayed home, and on weekends families went to Church. That’s it. So, they weren’t worried about finding out the news in a short period, because they had the time to sit and read the full paper, or an entire book, assuming they could read. Yes, news stories now are shorter because viewers/readers have shorter attention spans. But they are also shorter because people are trying to cram in more things in the same time-frame.

My biggest point of disagreement with the article, interestingly, is that people are less accepting of differing opinions nowadays. If anything, I believe that people are much more accepting today than in the past. Closed-minded people are not open-minded people who became closed-minded; they are closed-minded people who have remained closed-minded. In other words, closed-minded people are hold-overs from the past who have not yet changed. With ever-increasing numbers of people getting online, it makes sense that there are going to be more narrow-minded people voicing their opinions. These narrow-minded people were probably always narrow-minded, but they never had the forum to express it in the past. Now they do, and they are sending you complaints about AOM. Fortunately, your site is great and we don’t need ‘em.

49 Donnie December 2, 2009 at 10:34 am

Great, great article. Thank you for putting so much effort into this. As a young man who is surrounded by tweets and rss and im, I really found it a challenge to read through the whole article without checking what the latest news is on FSU football, or check my email, or facebook…

50 troll December 2, 2009 at 10:55 am

tldr

51 Chuck December 2, 2009 at 11:14 am

Kudos to the authors and to those who posted comments. There is intelligent life on this planet. I was beginning to have doubts.

52 fred December 2, 2009 at 11:21 am

I have to disagree with the idea that ” in days gone buy our forefathers did things so much better” such as listen to debates and read newspapers. That argument has been around since Socrates. It’s like saying rock ‘n’ roll music was better in the ’60′s…what you perceive to be better is the cream which you are then comparing to the total output of today. And 20 years hence you will look back and think man back in the ’00′s they made some good music; especially if you are in your 20′s right now.
There was a lot of schlock written in newspapers back in the day, just as there was a lot of schlock recorded back in the ’60′s. To test my theory, find some non-classic novels from 1920-30′s…you will find they are almost unreadable. But Hemmingway and Fitzgerald wrote some great stuff in those days (however Stephen King will never make a “great” list 50 years from now).

Thanks for the opportunity to exchange ideas, however if I can make one criticism on your site…please use spell-check and proofread your work before you post your articles; it is rare that your work is not free of simple spelling mistakes. And these tend to trivialise your often times good work.
Fred

53 Brandon B December 2, 2009 at 11:21 am

I agree with what I did read. I don’t have time to read it all, but I will read it later. Anyways, dont’ worry about me unsuscribing ever. lol. I haven’t suscribed yet, but I think i will do that today. I love this site. lol Maybe it’s because I’m a 17 year old boy turning into a man, and this site has actually changed my personality alot. I’m always being more respectful from this site, and I hope it continues to help in a way that will provide more beneficial to my life goals and personality. Thanks.

54 Mark December 2, 2009 at 11:41 am

I couldn’t agree more with the article. I have to admit, I’m guilty of having a short attention span, and had I not been on the subway in need of entertainment I probably would not have got through the entire article. As a trader I appreciate technology and the instant flashes of information it gives me, but on reflection it’s a pity how this need for instant gratification spills over into my personal life.

When my father constructed his new home a couple years back, he was insistent on not having a television in the living area, to better facilitate conversation. I told him no one would sit there just to talk, that people would rather watch TV. Regrettably, I was right.

55 Richmond Jones December 2, 2009 at 12:09 pm

With the internet and the compacting of information I’ve also seen then shortening of personality. People are asked to describe themselves in a 1″ x 1″ box and share their thoughts in under 140 characters. The ability of people to water themselves down is encouraged by many websites in an effort to maintain viewer’s attention and sharing too much information can get you in trouble. Valuable details and personal sharing used to be valued and now only deter visitors from sitting down and getting involved.

56 Thomas More December 2, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Rick Scoutmaster’s comment made me recall two books which I’d commend to the readers of this blog, particularly those who found this article edifying: 1) Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver, and 2) The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

57 Rich December 2, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Good post but too long. Jk

58 Captain G December 2, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Rule of thumb (to which of course there are exceptions): Show me a house with a huge TV and I’ll show you a house with no books in it that don’t have phone numbers printed in them.

59 Fernando Felix December 2, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Rich (12:14 pm) you make the point exactly, hope it was intended humor.
Just loved the words, English, the only language I speak has been redeemed, just keep going on, you stop me,… FF

60 Sebastien December 2, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Thank you.

@ Rich: haha. right?

61 Andy December 2, 2009 at 1:09 pm

This was too long, I couldn’t read it. Now… this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAO-lZ4_hU&feature=player_embedded

62 Billy December 2, 2009 at 1:21 pm

Hey Fred, Stephen King will almost definitely make a “great” list in 50 years, and if not, then for sure in 75. I’ll bet you King is studied at least to the same extent that Poe is today, and probably much, much more. Love him or hate him, you can’t take one of the most most successful writers in human history and just disregard his work as schlock.
I agree with the rest of your comment though. It always seems like the grass is always greener 20 years ago. I could never understand why my dad was so indifferent about the music I loved as a teenager until I was grown. Now it’s the 90′s station for me all the way. These kids today, all they know how to do is scream. But in my day…

63 Terry Hart December 2, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Great article. The discussion about the trivialization of information reminded me of one of the benefits newspapers (and certain magazines) have over blogs and RSS readers: serendipity. Matthew Ingram summed this problem up quite well: http://www.mathewingram.com/work/2009/10/18/in-defence-of-newspapers-and-serendipity/

I spent 5 years at a job where I read 20-30 different newspapers a day, and currently get my news and information primarily online, so I’m confident that this is indeed true. The shift from ‘offline’ reading to ‘online’ reading is a shift from breadth to depth of knowledge. Neither is “better,” but I think the danger – as more and more newspapers shut down their presses – is in having only breadth or depth.

The lack of serendipity in online reading will get better as technology advances and companies address the issue, but even the most robust automated recommendation systems still fail in providing complete serendipity since they are based on matching current items with past behavior. We are a long ways from any automated system that can say “I realize that this article is about something you’ve never expressed interest in before, but I think you’ll like it anyway.”

(Although I find browsing through Wikipedia to be a close proximate: http://xkcd.com/214/ )

64 Josh December 2, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Great article. I’ve been subscribed to AoM for nearly 3 months now and I can safely say this has been a consistently successful website because of your approach. Often times I look at the title of a recent post and I’m immediately turned off. However, it is posts like this one that keep me interested. Keep up the good work.

65 Phil H December 2, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Excellent post. The irony is that as I started reading I found myself jumping ahead instead of really reading. I particularly appreciate the description of classical debate. What passes for debate in our current infotainment age is the exchange of unsubstantiated, emotionally charged statements. A man is not truly educated unless he adequately understands both sides of a postion, not just the position he agrees with.

66 Jim Beidle December 2, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Another excellent article, Brett!

In my life, the Internet has become the time-stealer that television was 20 years ago. I believe that one of the larger benefits of moving to the farm is our limited Internet bandwidth. I have learned to be far more selective about content that when I had multi-megabit broadband cable.

Now, with the goggles of 20/20 hindsight I discovered that, for me, the Internet had become the new television. Only by through the bandwidth limits have I pared its use to gathering information and a more focused approach to entertainment.

I want to muse on at length here: instead I’ll keep in mind that this is a venue for brief comment. I invite you to check my blog post on the subject.

Please keep up this good work of bringing provocative articles before us! It will keep us healthy through the Winter months.

Jim Beidle

67 Philip December 2, 2009 at 3:05 pm

This article reminds me of a conversation I had last week. I was at a networking breakfast when people were discussing Twitter. One person, in the media/communication field, claimed that Twitter was essential because webpages were “too static”. Yet if you look at Twitter and many simply link to other webpages with staic information.

68 Tom December 2, 2009 at 3:07 pm

Great post, everything really rang true as weaknesses in my own an my friends character’s. To anyone interested in this subject I recommend you read “Distraction” by Mark Curtis. It deals with these and other problems of modern life at some length.

69 Brew December 2, 2009 at 4:35 pm

I have no good news to report from my college. Nearly every male student is preoccupied with movies and videogames. Bring back depth of knowledge and intellectual challenge for it’s own sake!

On a similar note, I’ve considered disabling my Facebook account simply because it encourages two-line, meaningless attempts to catch up with hundreds of people at once rather than growing deeper relationships with meaningful interaction. Thanks for bringing Postman’s book to my attention, Brett.

70 James Pearson December 2, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I should read opinions of people I disagree with? What nonsense, I’m unsubscribing from this blog.

71 Tman December 2, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Another great article and THANK YOU for bucking the trend.
The most recent example of the trivialization of information (news) has been the recent execution of 4 police officers in a coffee shop in Lakewood Washington, near my home town. This sick event has been covered on local and national news. Each time, it is immediately followed by the latest on Tiger Woods accident, which btw didn’t even activate the air bags. This so trivializes the heinousness of this act as well as the very lives of those 4 officers.
Brett and Kate- Keep fighting the fight and do not grow weary in doing good.

72 Joshua December 2, 2009 at 6:37 pm

I hadn’t thought about an aspect of AoM that appeals to me until reading this article. Of course, I really enjoy the subject matter, and I think it’s extremely relevant and necessary for our society. But stylistically, I really like the longer articles. What a great point that if something is worth writing about, one should write thoroughly.

I think the same goes for reading. Too often, our culture teaches us to settle for a 3 sentence snippet, and we decide we’re now experts. Reading a longer text on a subject gives you not only a greater breadth and specific knowledge, but as long as you are reading on a subject, you’re processing through the subject. Your mind keeps working on it, and you are likely to retain the information more efficiently.

73 Bob P. December 2, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Personally the majority of my information, entertainment and news does come from the internet. I don’t even own a T.V. anymore, although i do use hulu to watch the few shows worth following, and it’s been years since i listened to the radio or read a newspaper. What the internet gives you is choice, perhaps the mainstream pop dribble is as you describe. But the vastness of the internet gives you the choice to read the short fluffy article or get on and read an in depth peer reviewed article. The internet gives you access to everything, and what it comes down to is that the majority of people have always been the same and will choose the mindless dribble because it appeals to them. It the same reason we aren’t a country of rocket scientists and physicists, some people want the quick fix of entertainment or knowledge, while others enjoy learning and understanding that knowledge and the deeper meaning of it, and sadly these have always been the minority no matter the era.

74 Steven December 2, 2009 at 7:30 pm

It’s amazing how much stuff my brother-in-law gets done without having a TV.

75 Andrea P. December 2, 2009 at 7:56 pm

I almost never come here. I only pop in once in a while because my brother will occasionally post links to AoM articles that he found…. postworthy, I guess, on facebook. In this age where everybody seems to feel indisputably entitled to whatever they want right away, it’s reading things like this that really give me hope that there are, in fact, still good, intelligent, sensible *gentlemen* out there.

Excellent post. It makes me miss school days when I actually had to go to the public library to study up for a report.

76 Peter O'Reilly December 2, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Awesome article. Im in almost total agreement with it. I too can’t believe that people would leave the site because of one bad article. I like to think I’m pretty active on AOM, and even though I disagree with other users political and religious agendas, I’m going to keep coming back to learn more from this blog and exchange ideas and enjoy stimulating conversation on the forums. And while we’re on the subject of short attention spans…Hey Look! A squirrel…..

77 Rob December 3, 2009 at 12:13 am

Fred:
Your comments are interesting, however if you state the need for spell check in these articles you should consider the difference between “by” and “buy” as they have different meanings lol

78 Spence December 3, 2009 at 9:26 am

Brett,

This is so timely and true. You may have a doctrine on your hands here.

79 Brendan Peter McVeigh December 3, 2009 at 9:34 am

I really enjoyed this post. And would agree with the observations and conclusions. I did find the redirect to Youtube confusing though.

80 Joseph B December 3, 2009 at 9:39 am

That’s it! I can’t take it anymore! I’m subscribing today. Any site that finds an opportunity to grow in manhood in every conceivable situation must truly be a God-send.

81 Joel McCracken December 3, 2009 at 9:46 am

tl;dr

Kidding. This is one of the best posts, ever.

82 Joseph B December 3, 2009 at 10:02 am

Just one more thought. What with the essential differences among media, maybe a post on the manly way to communicate for each of these medias and how they differ is in order.

83 Henry S December 3, 2009 at 11:53 am

This was an excellent post. I don’t normally comment just because I prefer the email version, but I felt moved to say so now. These are several very heavy issues, and I think you discussed them very fully. As for the effect of technology, that’s exactly why I got into public policy in the first place, so thank you for writing about it as well.

84 Briana December 3, 2009 at 11:54 am

Great article. The Neil Postman book is an excellent read. Should be required reading for every man and woman today.

85 sean December 3, 2009 at 12:48 pm

thats it, i’m unsubscribing.

86 Russ December 3, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Great article, though a little long. If it could be reduced to a couple of short paragraphs it would be much more enjoyable.

87 Bob Pearce December 3, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Thought provoking post. But, that is the point isn’t it? Love AoM!

88 Buzz December 3, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Great article. Postman’s book is really a must-read. Particularly of worth is his section about the demise of politics in this country. How someone like the 300 pound Taft could never be president again-that you have to be attractive and “look like a president.” And how political debates are now meaningless and the “winner” is whoever puts on the best show and is the most entertaining.

Josh, if you’re going to leave a backhanded comment, why bother? Although you do provide an excellent example of the incivility that the internet breeds. We are willing to say things online that we would never say to a person in real life. What I mean is we would never go to an art show and say to the artist, “Many of your paintings totally turn me off, but I do like this one.” Or go to a dinner party, and tell the cook, “Many of your dishes totally turn me off, but this is one is good.’ Sigh.

89 Jonathan December 3, 2009 at 1:43 pm

I just recently found this site. I think it’s really cool, and I’m 18. Anyway, the article reminds me of the book Fahrenheit 451. In the book (almost) everybody was entertained by a form of interactive television and nobody really did anything. Keep up the good site and I’ll be waiting for the next article.

90 PB December 3, 2009 at 3:43 pm

I get tired of hearing about how everything in the past was so much better. Living in the past is a terrible way to spend the present. Sure, there are elements of earlier times that seem enjoyable and interesting but, as several posters have mentioned, the past was certainly not void of many of the complaints we have about today. It’s fun to be nostalgic but just think about all the advantages we have over our fathers and grandfathers. We have much more than they ever dreamed of. And to the question, “Is more really better?” I say “ABSOLUTELY!!!”. In today’s world we have vastly greater options in every part of our lives; what we read, what we watch, how we spend our free time, etc. Thus we also spend much more time evaluating those options, which I suppose could easily be diagnosed as a case of deteriorated attention span. I enjoy long articles and even books on topics that interest me but if I read the first few paragraphs of something and it’s of no interest to me whatsoever why would I keep reading when I have so many other options, including some I might really enjoy and read start to finish? I suppose the answer to that question forms the basis of your post but I must admit I’m having a hard time finding the benefit.
Speaking for myself, I think I would have enjoyed the Lincoln-Douglas debates but quite frankly, in 1858 what else would I have done? It easy to assume that interest in these debates was widespread and even that all the people at such an event were deeply enthralled in the subject matter but I bet many of them might have been much happier watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” had it be around at the time. Notice I said “happier” not “better off”. It’s important to understand some people don’t want to be well read or politically savvy and they don’t give a damn about philosophy or anything happening outside their own backyard. And who is anyone else to fault them if that’s how they choose to go through life? I really enjoy AoM but, like many other social forums, rather than celebrating our common interests and values with in the community, we occasionally make the mistake of trying to apply those shared beliefs on the rest of the world or at least assume they already apply there. Why don’t we just take today’s world as it is and do what we can to make the best of it? No one on this forum or anywhere else is going to change the structure and nature of today’s media or whatever form it takes in the future, so why talk about how much different and better it was 80 years ago? Even if we at AoM could agree that “the good ol’ days” were surely better than today, it would be foolish for us to assume that the rest of the world agrees and that society as a whole is somehow much worse off.

91 Jacob December 3, 2009 at 6:51 pm

TLDR!

haha.

Really though, I agree whole heartedly. Though you have to admit the irony of this article being a summation of a book.

92 Aaron December 3, 2009 at 7:44 pm

Great post. I’m sharing with as many people as I can think of. It is high time that we begin to see that the world doesn’t revolve around “me”. As an internet driven society, we no longer lack information, we lack depth.

93 Bruce December 3, 2009 at 8:30 pm

A truly excellent post.

I was struck by this quote from Kant recently, it seems very relevant here; speaking of what it really means to be enlightened he said it was:

“Freedom from self-incurred tutelage.”

That, like the content of your post, is something truly worth thinking about.

94 Bill C December 4, 2009 at 10:50 am

I agree that the internet age has indeed lowered our attention spans to equivilate a gold fish. The most debate that I get from one of my coworkers is “our President is a deadbeat,” without any elaboration on why she feels that way. Also, the effect of the internet and our offline lives can be reflected on how certain members of society communicate. I work with one woman who literally says “O.M.G.” and other internet acronyms as opposed to the actual sentences.

95 Wayne December 4, 2009 at 10:51 am

The purpose of education today is to produce skilled workers with no particular aspirations other then to be entertained. “Why” and “Prove it” are gone from our society. When little Timmy tells us that dolar backed assets are completely safe, we say “Oh good” and move on, when he says it to university students in Peking, they laugh at him. We read the headline, and accept it as fact rather than looking for any supporting arguments, and forget about dissecting it ourselves to determine truth or falsehood.

96 David December 4, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Amusing Ourselves to Death sounds like a really interesting read and I will definitely be reading it this winter. I agree with Fred’s argument in that in comparing the present to the past we are using a more selective sample from the past to compare to a census of the present. The past obviously had faults as well and I’m sure people in the past criticized their own present as much as we criticize ours. However, I do think that standards were higher in the past. I also believe that the degradation of these standards is very dangerous to a society, in particular a democracy.

I think the main argument in the main post is really about human standards. It is apparent that standards have fallen. For example: in renaissance times the standard was to be the “ideal citizen”. This was what society as a whole at that time aspired to be. The standard was high and in reality a goal for humanity. In our modern times we do not seem to have set any goals for ourselves as humans. Basically we have no set direction.

Although none of us can truly know why we are living, a standard and a human goal can help us have purpose. Our lack of direction, and lack of even thinking about that direction, leaves the majority of society to look towards Hollywood and the TV stations for guidance. The majority begins to believe that the world is how it appears on the screen, and the screen in return, gives definition to the world. When people look to a false reality for guidance, it is obvious they do not know what they are living for.

Getting direction from the media is dangerous. Like other services, the media exists because there is demand for it. Over time, in order to increase demand, the media had to find new ways to appeal to consumers. Unfortunately, the easiest and most cost efficient way to appeal to consumers is to appeal to their “animal senses”. We see this everyday when we end up only watching a show because there are smoking hot girls (I’m guilty of this myself). The media increased the stimulation and decreased the innovation to where all you see on TV is what humanity should as a goal not want, but was born to want. The problem in appealing to our animal senses is that we are not animals. Animals cannot think and we can. The gift of our mind and creative thought is something I believe we should be embracing. We should always be thinking because we were also born to think.

I could go into this by giving some spiel about how the U.S. Constitution sets standards and rules that were well thought of and gave our country a direction, BUT I don’t have all the time in the world.

I will say check out the book:
Amusing the Millions: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century
It is a great read and is similar in subject matter.

97 Mitchel December 4, 2009 at 5:26 pm

If you look at the word amuse you should plainly see that it is the lack of museing or thinking in our modern use of the language. This is why I gave up TV (other than rising cable costs). There should definitely be time for entertainment, but no time for brain numbing amusement.
I believe we are blessed at this time with such a wealth of information and free exchange of ideas, but to whom much is given is much required.
Thank you for this blog site and may it remain as a site dedicated to challenging men to be more than average.

98 Joe Proctor December 4, 2009 at 6:28 pm

George Carlin always had two great points in his later comedic works. I have to paraphrase.

1. I don’t believe things were better ‘back then.’ Nor do I believe that they are getting better.

2. We don’t have rights anymore. We have a list of privileges. Rights are inalienable. Privileges can be taken away, and every year in this country [USA] the list of privileges gets shorter and shorter. But no one cares anymore because everyone has a cellphone that makes pancakes.

After watching 8 years of Chimpy McFlightsuit do whatever he pleased and one year of Hopey McChangepants say whatever sounded good, I really agree that people aren’t paying much attention anymore to things that matter.

99 Kevin of Strength and Fitness Blog December 4, 2009 at 8:34 pm

This is a really thought-provoking post. We do waste a lot of time on things that are really frivolous. Its scary to think of the number of hours we spend watching TV, etc.

100 Sarge December 5, 2009 at 9:06 am

You might have changed the world by dropping a couple of challenging words in this article. Who knows what a hight a person may reach who choose a book and turns off the chatter box.

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