Ch. 5 – The Peek-a-Boo World

(Continuing on with by book club of 1…)

Today, I read a new post by Will Richardson on the topic of Twitter and it resounded so strongly with me (you can read my comments there) because I had just finished reading this fifth chapter of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and found incredible parallels between the influence of the telegraph, photograph, and television to the newer forms of information technology in this last decade . Will is wrestling with the impact of Twitter on his world, and how folks are restricted to communicating in 140 characters or less and others following up to 600 or more tweeters out there. Wow – have we ever changed from information moving as fast as physical people could carry it to seconds after the “post” or “publish” command has been invoked. Postman introduces the idea that this has produced “context free” information which holds merit simply because it is novel, interesting, our curious, “elevating irrelevance to the status of news”. I don’t think I am alone in being annoyed with the state of news in the US these days. In the morning I get 5 minutes or less of shallow news bytes and then 55 more minutes of the best macaroni and cheese recipes, 5 tips to firmer thighs, and where in the world is Matt Lauer. There is now such an glut of irrelevant information out there that instead of finding productive ways of taking action locally in our own communities, we struggle to stay afloat in the endless sea of information that seems important, but so disconnected that in the end we can’t find ways to take action on any of it. The idea of neighborhood has been replaced with “global neighborhood” – one that Postman defines as “… a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.”

Although Postman’s thinking evolves into a criticism of the television world, I find meaningful connections to newer worlds as well. To quote Postman once again,

“Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation… Knowing the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, backgrounds, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing lots of things, not knowing about them.”

As a teacher, I am compelled to help my students make sense out of both the information at their fingertips as well as the impact that the information medium has on his or her understanding and view of the world. I am challenged in new ways to help my students use new information tools in powerful and meaningful ways that do not sacrifice depth and complexity for breadth and glitz. How are we making sense of our world with the presence of such tools and glut of information? Are we struggling just to RSS the headlines and keep up the Jonses… I mean the Twitters? Do we need to be up on every RSSd headline or blog post? Or, are we tackling meaningful projects that positively impact our own communities based on meaningful and powerful uses of information. Are we contributing at all, or have we become so consumed with feeding on information that we have forgotten about our real neighbors and communities? Do we now live so much in Facebook or MySpace that the idea of community service is almost crazy? I mean, I have followers… I have an obligation here to satisfy them and their desire to know what I am doing every moment of the day. (sorry… this is getting a tad sarcastic)

Wow… this is making me think about a great deal. I have no answers at this point as I struggle with all of this. But, I am struggling, reading, and reflecting…, and that is good. What do you think about all of this?

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5 Comments on “Ch. 5 – The Peek-a-Boo World”


  1. I write posts for several sites in order to promote my business, but also to provide information. I am sure that the facts that I am presenting are not new, but I try to keep them fresh for the reader. Actually I am concerned that what I produce may be irrelevant or that I am not contributing worthwhile information, so I try to take a reality check sometimes to see if I am heading in the correct direction. I do find that too much fluff is produced though. Is it a case of giving the people what they want? Are we setting our standards too high for the general public? They may just want such material.

  2. Stephen Ransom Says:

    I don’t think that the posts in my blog are of interest to much of the general public. However, are we somehow allowing technologies to contribute to the general numbing of public discourse? What has made us so interested in Brittny Spears, OJ Simpson, Paris Hilton or any other Hollywood persona that it can consume headline news at the expense of news that actually matters? Postman argues that it is the ability of information technology to deliver such trivia every second of the day that it has distracted us from deep meaningful discourse of the 18th and 19th centuries and in its place given us decontextualized information as entertainment… or at least as distraction. What has happened to the public consciousness that this is what they want? Has technology helped shape it as Postman argues? And, what do we do to recognize it and respond to it? I think the edublogging community is headed in the right direction here.


  3. I do not follow the plights of those individuals. I do not look at those blogs which reference them, or shows on television for that matter. I simply have no interest, but I agree with you that the public appears to be watching their every move. I cannot fathom why. I was just looking at some collections of 18th and 19th century authors, and I think there was a deeper discussion going on among literate people. As I consider your post, I think Postman may have a point to his argument. Photography (still and film) has given us more dramatic images, and news can be spread so quickly by current means. Bloggers find their fifteen minutes by re-reporting such news with their opinions, so they feel important. I remember a snippet in the New York Times mentioning Perez Hilton, who is famous for his blogging, which apparently deals with such matters. Maybe we are the attendees at a Roman circus watching the games, hoping for a thumbs down.

    I believe that the only way to respond to it is to continue on with posts that provoke thought to keep it alive. I have to consider that further.

  4. Steve Ransom Says:

    Yes, I think it is our responsibility to have and promote worthwhile conversations that promote depth and exhaust issues rather than skip from one to the next with little to no resolution, growth, or personal challenge. I have to say that I have left many a comment on the blogs of others that go unaddressed. It becomes plain that the authors are not all that interested in dialog or conversation after all. But, in all fairness, if a certain blog has a high degree of readership and commentary, it is not practical to hold a conversation with every individual… which is a limitation of the blog itself, I guess. And, not every blog has as its goal such merits or qualities. Some serve the purpose to highlight, update, summarize, and inform at a very basic level.


  5. […] what is real or true, they are merely interested in news with entertainment value. We live in a “Peek-a-Boo world” with constant information available to us at any time. We  are drowning in a sea of […]


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