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2-minute Media Revolution
Neil Postman is chair of the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University. The author of Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and The End of Education: Redefining the Value of Schools, Postman defines a mental environment baseline.
"The big issue we need to face is information glut. We are in a situation where there is so much information available from so many different sources - not just television - that we have a problem.
Schools are still acting as if they need to provide people with information, which the schools were pretty good at when there was information scarcity. When you have information overload, then the schools have something entirely different to do.
The problem is, if you are overwhelmed by information, you lose your sense of what information is for, and what sort of information you need. For example, there have been studies that show most people can't remember the television news from the previous day. About the only thing on television that seems to be relevant, as far as most people are concerned, is the weather - because that at least gives people a sense of something they can do as a result of getting some information.
There was a time when input was in fact related to output. When you took in information, you were able to use a fairly high percentage of it for some purpose in your life. Now, there is almost no relation between input and output. You get people who are information junkies - they get information and they don't do anything with it, they don't remember much of it - and that's a new situation in our culture.
I think people are more aware of how their lives are altered by media. When you think of the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of television commercials that people are exposed to, that's something relatively new in our culture. You begin to think, 'What is all this about? What are we supposed to do about this?' More people now than ever before - I don't mean scholars, but just ordinary people - are very much interested in the kinds of effects that media has, not just on children but on politics, on social life, even on the idea of consumership.
Twenty-five years ago, you could get a bigger audience for a lecture on how to improve your backhand in tennis than you could for a talk about, let's say, how media affects children. But I think that has changed.
[A mental environmental movement] certainly would involve some new conceptions of education. We have to begin with the question, 'What is information for? How do you know whether you need information about something? What are the reliable sources of information? What do we mean by a reliable source? Who is controlling the output of information?' These questions would be part of the education of our young. To me, that would add up to a kind of response to an environment polluted with irrelevance.
Aldous Huxley was talking about this 50 years ago, when he said it wasn't so much the un-truth of information, but the complete irrelevance of information that was going to be the problem in the end. You keep people distracted, and keep them from addressing issues that they need to address, by flooding them with all sorts of information about which they can do nothing. Other people come up with different responses, but the key to me is education."