There are two ways to wither the spirit of culture, one is Orwellian – culture becomes a prison, the other is Huxleyian – culture becomes a farce.
Are we truly aware of how media affects us and our children?
Paper books, magazines, newspapers. In the past, paper reading materials were the carrier of knowledge. People enjoyed reading and improved themselves in reading.
Later, there was television. People shouted, how wonderful, vivid pictures, wonderful sounds, humans have never been so happy to acquire knowledge!
Later, there was the Internet. People are ecstatic, there are no more boundaries, no restrictions, everything is free, and it has never been so easy for humans to acquire knowledge!
The short-term pleasure obtained in the virtual world is easily addictive. The feeling of an instant rise in dopamine allows us to forget everything. If we indulge our desires, we will only fall deeply into it.
Technological progressivists optimistically advocate that technology makes life better, but turn a blind eye to its destructive effects. In fact, emerging technologies and media are used more for entertainment than for reading and thinking. The indulgence of the Internet age is leading us towards an abyss. What really needs reflection is, while new media brings convenience, does it also secretly dominate us?
Neil Postman’s “Trilogy of Media Criticism” has a clear and profound understanding of this issue.
The world is suffering spiritual destruction
Neil Postman points out that our world has been deeply damaged by various prison cultures. The structure of this prison culture is what Orwell said in his fable, and tens of millions of people in dozens of countries have been incarcerated. The machine that controls the mind is imprisoned in a mental prison. There is no doubt that it is spiritually devastating.
No matter whether the people who control the ideological machine are left-wing or right-wing, from the East or the West, it makes no difference to us. The door of this mental prison is still impenetrable, the control is still strict, and the idolatry is still deeply rooted in the hearts of the people.
Neil Postman further points out that another way in which a culture’s spirit wilts is even more terrifying and even more difficult to realize. That was Huxley’s warning: In a technologically advanced age, the enemy of spiritual destruction is more likely to be a smiling man than one whose first glance inspires suspicion and hatred.
In Huxley’s prophecy, Big Brother does not intentionally spy on us, but we ourselves are willing to watch him all the time, without any need for gatekeepers, gates, or a “Ministry of Truth.”
If a nation is distracted by trivial matters, if cultural life is redefined as a cycle of entertainment, if serious public dialogue becomes childish baby language, in short, if the people degenerate into passive audiences, and all public affairs become nothing more than sideshows. , then this nation will find itself in danger, and the fate of cultural destruction is inevitable.
Huxley worried that human culture would become a vulgar culture full of sensory stimulation, desire and irregular games. Now it seems that what Huxley warned was not just for the United States, but a serious problem facing the whole world.
The impact of the television era on people that Postman is worried about pales in comparison to the Internet and short video era we live in now.
At present, short videos have changed the content and meaning of public discourse. Content in politics, education, sports, business and other public fields all appear in a short, fast, vulgar and superficial way, and have gradually become a cultural spirit.
Schopenhauer once said that people are like springs. If you read too much without thinking of your own, you will lose elasticity. This is true for books, not to mention videos. In an era of media explosion, people are drowned in the torrent of information. If people cannot calm down and think carefully from time to time, it is very easy for people to lose themselves and become “leeks” being harvested.
Therefore, Neil Postman’s “Media Criticism Trilogy” is crucial to this era and to every modern person. It warns us not to let ourselves become victims of entertainment products.
An accusation against technological monopoly and a warning to modern people
In “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Postman writes that the era of printed books promotes objective and rational thinking and encourages serious, orderly, and logical public discourse.
The emergence of new media has changed all this. Religion, politics, education and any other public domain content are increasingly presented as entertainment and become a kind of “culture”. Human beings have become appendages of entertainment without complaint or even willingly. The result is that we have become a species that entertains itself to death.
The “cultural craze” of the 1980s is still fresh in many people’s memories. It was an era of in-depth reflection and reading for all people. Not only did they introduce and translate a large number of excellent Western ideological and cultural books, but they also advocated “no restricted areas for reading”.
However, new media always have a stronger appeal. Soon, the popularity of television competed for most of the readers. Today, television, the Internet, and mobile phones have made serious reading and even reading a luxury, and vulgar entertainment has generally occupied the spiritual life of the public.
As for “Technology Monopoly”, it is more like a crusade against “technology worship”.
Technology is a double-edged sword, a Faustian bargain, with pros and cons. However, the practical logic of “development first, development is the last word” has always dominated our thinking, so it is easy to ignore the negative effects of technological development.
Big data will record the information we have browsed, and then we will receive relevant recommendations, which is terrifying to think about. Originally we chose our preferences, but now our preferences come to us. And we lack awareness of our true preferences. Over time, we may be “forced” to like anything without knowing it, and our thinking has been silently modified.
This is the “technological monopoly” that Postman repeatedly emphasized, that is, all forms of cultural life are subject to the rule of skills and technology, and any technology can think about problems for us.
”The Disappearance of Childhood” reminds us that the arrival of new media has made the concept of “childhood” lose its meaning. All information can be shared between adults and children, and the boundaries between adults and children are gradually blurred. Children are almost forced to enter the adult world full of conflict, war, sex, and violence early, and “childhood” gradually disappears.
But Postman’s attitude towards technology is not completely negative and hostile. He is more like a critical friend. He believes that technology is necessary, but at the same time worries that “technological worship” will cause reading to give way to entertainment and thinking to be squeezed by the explosion of information.
In the Internet era, there are a variety of entertainment methods that fill every modern person’s life. Everyone is becoming a transparent body and a “digital slave” bound by algorithms and data. All this not only makes people’s heads empty and immersed in sensory entertainment, but also makes people lose their mobility and courage to face the real world, and as a result, they gradually become “waste”.
As Postman said, the scary thing about entertaining yourself to death is not the entertainment itself, but that people increasingly lose the ability to think seriously and make rational judgments about social affairs, and that they are cultivated by a frivolous cultural environment to be ignorant and fearless. Rational illiteracy without knowing it.