Thursday, November 11, 2010

Whack-a-mole Polemics (part 1)

The blogosphere abounds with polemics. That is, many blogs are authored by persons whose primary purpose is to dispute views in opposition to their own.

Neil Postman wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business in which he argues that the mediums of public discourse (such as television and printed text) shape the content of that discourse.  I won't dissect his arguments here, but here is the basic idea:
"...every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of what the great Catholic prophet, Marshall McLuhan meant when he coined the famous sentence, 'The medium is the message.'"[1]
Most of his analysis of television's shortcomings revolve around the non-propositional nature of television's content.  Images flash on the screen with no relevance to what appeared before them (consider the average fast paced news program with commercial breaks).  With a medium so rich in imagery, the overriding goal can become entertainment and amusement.  This outcome alarms Postman for many reasons.  For instance, when the public is expected to hold informed opinions about current political issues yet they rely on television for the majority of their information.  On the other hand, printed text is held in high regard by Postman, since it facilitates rational discourse.  "In a culture dominated by print, public discourse tends to be characterized by a coherent, orderly arrangement of facts and ideas." [2]

Let's assume his thesis is correct.  How can we apply his analysis to public discourse in the blogosphere?  One philosopher and blogger made the Shakespearean observation that "brevity is the soul of blogging."  I would agree.  Over the next series of posts, I will briefly jot down my thoughts on public discourse in the blogosphere.

[1] Postman, Neil. "Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change." The New Technologies and the Human Person: Communicating the Faith in the New Millennium. Colorado, Denver. 1998. Address. (online transcript)
[2] Ibid. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. 20th An. Ed. Penguin (Non-Classics), 2005. 51. Print.


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