Neil Postman

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Neil Postman was born on March 8, 1931 and died October 5, 2003. He received a master's degree in 1955 and a doctorate of education degree in 1958, both from the Teachers College, Columbia University. He began teaching at New York University in 1959. In 1971, he founded a program in media ecology at the Steinhardt School of Education of NYU and in 1993 he was appointed a University Professor, and was chairman of the Department of Culture and Communication until 2002. Postman wrote 18 books and more than 200 magazine and newspaper articles. Postman's best known book is Amusing Ourselves to Death, published in 1985. It explores the decline of the communication medium as television images have replaced the written word. Postman argues that television confounds serious issues with entertainment, demeaning and undermining political discourse by making it less about ideas and more about image. He also argues that television is not an effective way of providing education, as it provides only passive information transfer, rather than the interaction that he believes is necessary to maximize learning. He draws on the ideas of media theorist Marshall McLuhan to argue that different media are appropriate for different kinds of knowledge, and describes how oral, literate, and televisual cultures value and transfer information in different ways. In his novel, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman describes to the reader, in detail, the immediate and future dangers of television. The argument starts out in a logical manner, explaining first the differences between today's media-driven society, and yesterday's "typographic America". Postman goes on to discuss in the second half of his book the effects of today's media, politics on television, religion on television, and finally televised educational programs. He explains that the media consists of "fragments of news" (Postman, 1985, p.97), and politics are merely a fashion show. Although Postman's arguments regarding the brevity of the American attention span and the importance of today's mass media are logical, I do not agree with his opinion of television's inability to educate. I am in agreement with Neil Postman when he states television is having an overall negative effect on our society; it promotes short attention spans. For this argument, Postman uses the example of the seven famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas. Postman explains, audiences would "cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory" (Postman, 1985, p. 44). I don’t believe this concept to be entirely true in today's society.
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