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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Amusing Ourselves to Death - my notes

Dorothy discovers "the Great and Powerful Oz"
Way back in high school (I'll confess my age by telling you that I graduated in 1988) I read Animal Farm and loved reading it and discussing it in and out of class.

A few years ago I picked up Brave New World by Huxley.  While Animal Farm was a clarifying look at totalitarianism, Brave New World is a prophetic look at our own world of "Freedom from"  rather than "freedom to": freedom from religion, freedom from responsibility, freedom from truth, for example.  I was totally transfixed.  Someone had pulled back the curtain to show the man behind the "Great and Powerful Oz".

In conversations with friends more recently I'd been introduced to Neil Postman's ideas, specifically, his comparison of Brave New World and Animal Farm.  With those two worlds percolating in my mind, I decided I ought to read Postman's book Amusing Ourselves to Death.  And so I finally picked up a copy  last year.  It sat on my shelf for some time waiting its turn to be put in my "reading" pile.  It is a very slow moving pile, admittedly.

Well after a few months, I've finally finished it!

Here are my notes from Chapter 1.  Others to follow.

Ch. 1 The Medium is the Metaphor

"...the clock has the effect of disassociating time from human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.  ... in the fourteenth century, the clock mad us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers.  In the process, we have learned irreverence toward the sun and the seasons, for in a world made up of seconds and minutes, the authority of natures is superseded. ... Eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events."

This and some comments from Andrew Kern (wish I could remember where he talked about this - maybe if he reads this he can help?) makes me want to read more about this time period.  But more importantly doesn't this idea just floor you?  That something as innocuous as the invention of the clock, something I am quite partial to, could change a culture so drastically.

Having experience with a culture that is not "pre-clock", but not at all a servant of the clock, it is a hard thing to not feel that we clock-lovers are superior.  Surely, it is a virtue to be where you say you will be when you say you will be there, right?  But then you begin to realize that the other culture is far more free.  They are always on time, because "late" doesn't have a real meaning in their culture.  It allows the freedom to stop and take care of the needs of a friend or stranger when you aren't under the pressure to "be on time".

What more might lay ahead for me in this book.  I'm almost afraid to read on.  I'm not sure I want to know.