Here’s my summary of the book.
In the 1950’s Neil Postman wrote a brilliant book called Amusing Ourselves to Death, which basically argues that text and print are superior mediums for exchanging information, and that radio and TV made us dumber.
He believed that the effort involved in parsing long-form communication mediums is what gave us the value, and that removing that effort—making it easy—removes all its nutritional value.
It was a compelling argument.
And now I wonder if our current bout with polarization and depression in the US could somehow be caused by the extreme end of this spectrum.
Maybe social media and memes are like high-fructose-corn-syrup, and networks like Facebook and Reddit inject these chemicals directly into our neurotransmitters.
Maybe hatred in this form is more potent. And maybe wisdom in this form is little more than water.
Perhaps it’s impossible to become wise if we consume wisdom in the form of candy, because it only comes as meat and potatoes. Free-range meat, that you had to chase down yourself. And large, leafy vegetables that are as green as black, and that taste like the Earth.
We might need slow information the way the body needs slow exercise. You can’t, for example, lower a semi-truck onto yourself as a way to do three years of gym workouts all at once.
Of course there’s a simpler explanation as well, which is that the two are simply correlated.
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Maybe sugary content simply stops people from going after the higher-quality stuff, so they never get exposed to deeper ideas. So it’s not that the medium is a problem, but that attractive mediums distract would-be learners into complacency.
It’s probably both.
All I know is that if it were up to me, I’d have large stretches of time in school where inputs are severely restricted. No mobile phones, no YouTube, etc. And I’d expose kids to high-quality written content that is consumed and discussed slowly.
Like leafy green vegetables.
Slow, face-to-face conversations that last a couple of hours. About books with pages. And about the most important ideas known to humans.
I’m not a Luddite. I love tech. I think it’s spectacular. Multiple mediums, fast messaging, always-on connectivity. I’m all about it. The more the better.
But I’m increasingly thinking that we need the other extreme as well to be healthy.
We need to be able to slow down, limit our inputs, open our awareness to the subtlest of vibrations, and consume and discuss ideas at the pace of the campfire.
We don’t have to choose between these two models. We just need balance.