“…Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world”
Just a take a moment and let that statement marinate. Is it even shocking? Or have I already lost you to a Youtube video of a dancing cat?
And can you believe the quote above was not even written in 2011, but in 1985 — before Netflix, TIVO, iPhones, streaming Internet (or really any internet), no Facebook, no Twitter, no newscast about a Bedroom Intruder watched a shade over 33 million times (with it’s Auto-tuned rendition gaining a few additional views – like around 81 million).
1985 was Branson, Missouri compared to our 2011 Las Vegas on streaming steroids. So what did Neil Postman write in his prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, that might be truer now than ever for Millennials, Gen Y, and Emerging Adults – making it number 18 on my 20 for 20somethings book countdown.
AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH?!
First, let me admit that I read part of Amusing Ourselves to Death while flying from Boston to LA on Virgin Airlines with their new on-board computer screen embedded in the chair in front of me. As I turned to page fifty, I had to add a few songs to my tailored onboard playlist, which led me to message seat 15F through the Plane Chatroom, which then persuaded me to watch a TED talk for a little break.
I didn’t make it back to the book that day.
The irony wasn’t lost.
I write about millennials and Gen Y amusing ourselves to death because I feel myself slipping into an entertainment-coma.
TWO KEYS POINTS ABOUT AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH FOR YOU TO TWEET AND FACEBOOK
1. We are the Most Informed, Uninformed People in the History of the World.
We possess unfathomable amounts of information at our fingertips. Millions of links, messages, “this video is Hi-larious” dance across our eyes every day. We can know real time that the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic is having Macadamia Nut Ice Cream for dessert, while at the same time not know where the Czech Republic is on a map or that the Czech Republic is even a country (I had to Wikipedia it myself just to make sure).
Postman worried that television was providing us with rapid and ramped disinformation – “misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information — information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing” (Postman, 107). Wow, and he wrote this before Facebook?!
Do you know how many blogs there are currently on the Internet? Take a guess. One million? Five? Ten million? You’re colder than a naked man jumping in Lake Michigan in November.
There are 162,021,094 blogs as of today, May 17 2011. With 69,214 blogs started in the last 24 hours! (http://www.blogpulse.com/). That’s similar to an entire stadium full of people at a college football game creating a WordPress account all at the same time. (Note to Self: Buy stock in WordPress)
There are 110,000,000 tweets per day. (http://blogs.forbes.com/). That’s 110 million shouts for your attention from 109 million “Social Media Experts” trained at yelling the loudest and the most persuasively.
People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook! (https://www.facebook.com/press/info.php?statistics)
That roughly comes out to every person on Earth spending 100 minutes a month on Facebook. And since we know billions of people don’t even have Internet access, the rest of us are making up for it with millions of LOL’s and You Got to See This! And just writing the word “Facebook” prompted me (how well conditioned does Mark Zuckerberg have me?) to go and check my Facebook …
….and 14 minutes later…
2. Most Our Information Does Not Lead to Action
Let’s say you heard Paul Revere yell “the British are coming!” You would have jumped and grabbed your gun.
What was our reaction when we first heard of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers? Did most of us jump to action? No, we glued ourselves to the TV. Then what did most of us do after the news took us through all the cliff-hangers? We ate dinner in our college cafeteria. Or maybe we met a small group of people to pray. Or maybe we just turned on a re-run of Friends to forget about it all for a while.
For most Americans, the worst event of this generations’ history required most of us to do… absolutely nothing. Maybe a class or two was cancelled and we had longer lines at the airport. But we collectively did not act upon the events of 9/11. No, we consumed 9/11. Just like we eat up Jersey Shore, the Royal Wedding, Osama’s death, or American Idol. We watch not to act upon — but ultimately to be entertained under the guise of staying “informed”. As Postman wrote way back in 1985, we have a glut of information about “a sea of facts from unknown places about strangers with unknown faces.”
Yes, we have a huge obesity problem in this country and it’s not just from ice cream and fried Twinkies. No we are morbidly obese on information – useless facts that are high in fat and sugar, that require us to do absolutely nothing. We lay on the couch and consume – Anderson Cooper and John Stewart our potato chips and M & M’s.
AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH IN 2011
If 1985 felt like we were on the “verge” of amusing ourselves to death, where are we in 2011? Do we have our hind parts planted squarely in graves — accompanied of course with our iPhone, True Blood series and 1,239 Twitter followers clamoring for a seat next to us? And do we even care? I can almost hear us now.
Go ahead. Bring the shovel and cover me with dirt. I don’t care. I have Snooki!
(And the fact that most of us know who Snooki actually is, and we actually care, well that is why we are in such deep freaking Snooki!)
So what? This is just more information, on just another blog, sandwiched in between the 162 million others. What does it matter?
Am I telling you to delete your Facebook account? Maybe – but honestly I probably won’t. But it does beg the question – do we have Facebook or does Facebook have us?
Or maybe you should not watch TV for a week or a month to see what happens to your entertainment appetite away from your electronic teet? All of us who swear we don’t have enough time in the day might magically discover hours just waiting to be used with purpose.
Maybe we should pick up a book this week – and no, nothing in the Harry Potter/Twilight Young Adult category – the most popular books amongst 25-33 year olds, and of course, 13-15 year olds too. Amusing Ourselves to Death might be a good place to start.
Maybe just schedule into your day ten minutes of silence with no other message warring for your thoughts. When’s the last time you gave yourself permission to think?
Our Founding Fathers spent their lives to give us the freedom and right to read, to think, to form an opinion and voice it. So it is a profound turn of events that we have voluntarily chosen to lock ourselves back up without little protest. “America was founded by intellectuals, from which it has taken us two centuries and a communications revolution to recover” (Postman, p. 41).
But if you don’t choose to change anything, I understand.
And to thank you for reading this far, I give you a fat dancing cat exercising in front of a TV. Be entertained!
Amusing Ourselves to Death? Agree or Disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments below.