Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Amazing Ourselves to Death

So, the major milestone of the past few months has been the publication of my new book, Amazing Ourselves to Death: Neil Postman's Brave New World Revisited. Have you ordered your copy yet? If not, here's an easy way to do it:

So, here is the rather overblown write-up from the back of the book:

Neil Postman’s most popular work, Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), provided an insightful critique of the effects of television on public discourse in America, arguing that television’s bias towards entertaining content trivializes serious issues and undermines the basis of democratic culture.

Lance Strate, who earned his doctorate under Neil Postman and is one of the leading media ecology scholars of our time, re-examines Postman’s arguments, updating his analysis and critique for the twenty-first-century media environment that includes the expansion of television programming via cable and satellite as well as the Internet, the web, social media, and mobile technologies.

Integrating Postman’s arguments about television with his critique of technology in general, Strate considers the current state of journalism, politics, religion, and education in American culture. Strate also contextualizes Amusing Ourselves to Death through an examination of Postman’s life and career and the field of media ecology that Postman introduced.

This is a book about our prospects for the future, which can only be based on the ways in which we think and talk about the present.

And here are the two blurbs that accompany it, for which I am truly grateful, and humbled:

"When Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death is brought into the classroom, or given as a gift, or handed from one reader to another, a problem is created: into what frame should we place this book? For that’s how unique it is. Lance Strate has solved that problem by writing a graceful and learned companion to Postman’s original. It doubles as a biographical sketch of a great man and his intellectual times. It is also an act of love. And if you love the book it’s about, you will be grateful for Strate’s Amazing Ourselves to Death. I am. And I highly recommend it." —Jay Rosen, Professor of Journalism, New York University

"Lance Strate masterfully brings to a new generation, and a new century, Neil Postman’s enlightening and essential insights into the ways that our uses of media reflect and reshape our society. He further shows how we can reclaim control, so we can use the ever-evolving media rather than letting them use us." —Deborah Tannen, University Professor and Professor of Linguistics, Georgetown University

And finally, here's the About the Author bit:

Lance Strate studied with Neil Postman at New York University, where he earned his Ph.D., and is currently Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University. The author of Echoes and Reflections and On the Binding Biases of Time, he is a recipient of the Media Ecology Association's Walter Ong Award for Career Achievement in Scholarship.

And for a bit of background on how the book came to be, it all started when I was contacted by David Park, who edits a series called "A Critical Introduction to Media and Communication Theory" for Peter Lang, an academic publisher. Working with Peter Lang's Acquisitions Editor Mary Savigar, David asked me if I knew of anyone who might be willing and able to re-examine Postman's arguments in light of the changes to our media environment over the last three decades.

It was an offer I couldn't refuse, especially since I had the perfect title, one that I had used for a public lecture I gave at Medaille College in 2007, at the invitation of philosophy professor Gerald Erion. Amazing Ourselves to Death struck me as a good way to combine Postman's arguments about television in Amusing Ourselves to Death with his critique of our love affair with technology and especially information technology in Technopoly. And given that Postman began Amusing Ourselves to Deathby arguing that Huxley's dystopia better fit late 20th century American culture than Orwell's, and that Huxley had followed up on his 1932 novel, Brave New World, with a set of essays entitled Brave New World Revisited in 1958, the subtitle for my book—Neil Postman's Brave New World Revisited—was easy enough to come up with.

And now this, the Table of Contents from the book:



Part I

Chapter 1: Fatal Amusements
Chapter 2: Building a Bridge to Neil Postman
Chapter 3: Media Ecology as a Scholarly Activity
Chapter 4: The Evolving American Media Environment

Part Two

Chapter 5: Breaking the News
Chapter 6: The Tribe Has Spoken
Chapter 7: Neon Gods
Chapter 8: Grand Theft Education
Chapter 9: The Tempest


And here are the first two paragraphs from the Foreword:

I imagine there are two kinds of readers of this book, those who have already read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), and those who have not. For those who have not, my goal is to provide you with a summary of Postman's arguments concerning the negative effects of the television medium, and technology more generally, on public discourse and social institutions, along with a demonstration of their continued relevance to our contemporary culture and media environment. I know there are some who inevitably question the value and validity of a book that is, as of this writing, almost thirty years old, and not getting any younger, and would perhaps remain unmoved by a reminder that we still study Plato's writings from the 4th century BCE. And there is no denying the fact that Amusing Ourselves to Death does not take into account the Internet, web, social media, and mobile technology, let alone the explosive growth of programming options made available via cable and satellite television, while the Reagan-era culture that Postman critiques continues to recede into the past. In presenting you with an up-dated analysis, I realize that the passage of time will render my references increasingly less relevant as well. For this reason, my intent is also to present Postman's overall approach, grounded in the field of media ecology, and show how it can continue to be applied in the future. Of course, if you have not read Amusing Ourselves to Death yet, I hope that this book will convince you to do so, and enhance your reading as you do so.

Readers already familiar with Postman are aware of his exceptional eloquence, a standard that I make no claims of approaching. Postman wrote for a general readership, addressing major issues and concerns of his time, and like many of his other books, Amusing Ourselves to Death is best understood as an extended essay, meant to stand on its own. In taking a scholarly approach to Postman's work, I have endeavored to relate Amusing Ourselves to Death to Postman's others books, especially Technopoly (1992). This is also essential to the task of updating Postman's arguments to take into consideration computers, information technology, and new media, and the proliferation of technology in general. I have chosen the title Amazing Ourselves to Death to reflect this larger scope, and the fact that it is ultimately our innovations in media and technology that are the cause for considerable concern. The subtitle, Neil Postman's Brave New World Revisited, alludes to Aldous Huxley's set of essays, Brave New World Revisited (1958), reflections on his novel, Brave New World (1932), which Postman highlights as prescient in its warnings of a future in which freedom is sacrificed for the sake of fun. In addition to situating Amusing Ourselves to Death within Postman's entire body of work, I have further endeavored to contextualize his arguments through a biographical sketch, and a general discussion of the field of media ecology with which he was associated. All of these subjects require much fuller treatment than can be accorded here, but I hope that what I have provided will be sufficient as a starting point for further investigation.

And we'll leave it at that, at least for now, but I'll be posting more on the topic in the near future.

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