In this 1985 book essay, Neil Postman offers a lamentation on the information culture, addressing the negative effects that certain inventions have had on how humans think and behave. In particular he talks about the television and how it has damaged society’s intellectual discourse by driving people into needing to be entertained by the absurd than wanting to be taught by the rational. Like explained in the book The Shallows, which seems to have borrowed a lot from Postman’s ideas, we learn how inventions concerning langauge change human methods of thinking and also how the medium a message is displayed or shown becomes the actual message.
To give you an example how badly damaged our attention spans have gotten, in 1858 there was a political debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas before a packed house that lasted three hours. One of their other debates lasted for seven hours.
What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory? [...] These were people who regarded such events as essential to their political education, who took them to be an integral part of their social lives, and who were quite accustomed to extended oratorical performances.
Commoners really were intellectually sharper in those times, with a grasp of world affairs and political nuance. Can you imagine anyone giving seven hours of their attention today, even when it comes to the election of their president? The “debates” we have on television now allot candidates only a couple minutes to respond to complex questions. With such little time, all that can fit into a response are buzz words, generalities, lies, and snide attacks that make for good headlines the next day. Today’s presidential debates are entertainment. Since American people don’t understand where their candidate stands beyond one or two issues, today’s presidential races are not much more than celebrity contests.
Postman argues that unless information you receive is actionable, it will have no benefit to your life and should therefore not be consumed in the first place…
How often does it occur that information provided you on morning radio or television, or in the morning newspaper, causes you to alter your plans for the day, or to take some action you would not otherwise have taken, or provides insight into some problem you are required to solve?
Such information is merely entertainment, but it is being packaged by the media as news or educational. The result is that you are awash in useless information, facts, and images that serve as distractions, turning you into a vessel to receive advertisements. Their only real use is to be good at trivia…
Where people once sought information to manage the real contexts of their lives, now they had to invent contexts in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use. The crossword puzzle is one such pseudo-contact; the cocktail party is another; the radio quiz shows of the 1930′s and 1940′s and the modern television game show are still others; and the ultimate, perhaps, is the wildly successful “Trivial Pursuit.” In one form or another, each of these supplies an answer to the question, “What am I to do with all these disconnected facts?” And in one form or another, the answer is the same: Why not use them for diversion? for entertainment? to amuse yourself, in a game?
What Postman says about television can easily be said about the internet. Though the internet has brought back the written word, it has not increased discourse. Looking at the top blogs today, most of it is sensational gossip, celebrity news, top 10 lists stocked with pleasant images, and content that is designed to make you consume and click instead of reflect and think. In other words, they serve as entertainment just like television, which still retains strong viewership among young people.
While blogs like mine have actionable information, the traffic I get is just a drop in the bucket compared to the more commercial sites. Americans want to be entertained as much as they want to learn, a habit that is being spread to other parts of the world. Postman argues that this rush to absorb new technology is insanity because it makes the assumption that humans are on a pre-ordained path to technological utopian bliss. More thought should be put into how we incorporate certain inventions into our lives.
America is engaged in the world’s most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions made possible by the electric plug. This is an experiment that began slowly and modestly in the mid-nineteenth century and has now, in the latter half of the twentieth, reached a perverse maturity…
This book made me reconsider how I present my own work. Blog readers today increasingly want bulleted lists, bold summary statements, shorter posts, and images. Before hitting the publish button I should ask myself if it’s “too long” and if the majority of my readers have the will to read a 1,500 word article without skimming through it. On the internet we are bombarded with so much information, so many headlines and links, that no one can be bothered to spend more than five minutes on a particular article or video. Our eyes are rapid scanners, frantically searching for exciting stimulus that can be easily understood without too much thought. Our generation is the skimming generation. The great intellectuals of previous centuries, with their pictureless expositions, their “blocks of text,” would be responded with a “tl;dr” today. They wouldn’t be noticed unless they can pack it in a list with numbered headings and stock Getty photos.
Overall this was a brilliant essay that makes you think about your brain and how it’s being affected by technology and mass media. The solution isn’t quite getting a cabin in the woods, but we have to recognize that something is lost when we spend the bulk of our free time with the goal to be merely amused. Postman died before the internet came of age, and though I think he would see it as promoting more interactivity than television, it has come at a cost at developing human beings with poor attention spans and the inability for deep thought.
A river that has slowly been polluted suddenly becomes toxic; most of the fish perish; swimming becomes a danger to health. But even then the river may look the same and one may still take a boat ride on it. In other words, even when life has been taken from it, the river does not disappear, nor do all of its uses, but its value has been seriously diminished and its degraded condition will have harmful effects throughout the landscape.
Guys have been telling me to read this book for years. It got my attention from the beginning…
This book is written specifically for people who have a more masculine sexual essence, and their lovers, who will have a more feminine sexual essence—since you always attract your sexual reciprocal. [...] If you want real passion, you need a ravisher and a ravishee; otherwise, you just have two buddies who decide to rub genitals in bed.
The author, spiritual guru David Deida, claims that relationships can’t succeed without a masculine pole and a feminine pole, so the book is geared for masculine men who are already in relationships with feminine women. His relationship advice for maintaining this polarity actually packages a lot of red pill thinking into a purple pill that won’t offend the mainstream (no one would call this book “misogynist”). Instead of blaming women entirely like I may do here, he shares equal blame between the sexes.
Each chapter provides a rule that men must follow. Sample rules include…
- Know Your Real Edge and Don’t Fake It
- Never Change Your Mind Just to Please a Woman
- Do It for Love
- Don’t Use Your Family As an Excuse
- Don’t Analyze Your Woman
- Choose a Woman Who Is Your Complementary Opposite
The book wasn’t beta as much as it was soft. Some of the things he said were so off the wall that I didn’t know if I wanted to gag or roll my eyes. He also had a bad habit of repeating meaningless generalities. I’d be getting blown away by one paragraph where I’d ask myself “Wow who is this guy?” but then be violently brought back down to earth in the next with some new-age crap that didn’t make sense. It doesn’t help that he constantly repeats how you should give you unbound love to women or the world. For example:
“…you will lovingly surrender your position and ravish the moment, penetrate to its core and find yourself identical to it. Feeling through and through and through is your only freedom.”
“Your ultimate desire is for the union of consciousness with its own luminosity, wherein all appearance is recognized as your deep, blissful nature, and there is only One.”
Behind the floral language, however, was excellent advice on how to maintain a relationship. But a relationship with whom? An American woman? The book may be dated: how many truly feminine women are there in the United States? I think the passage of time has inadvertently made this book a great guide for relationships with foreign women. A lot of the tips it contains would definitely have helped maintained my little harems in Eastern Europe.
The book had many great quotes. Here’s a sample…
- “Men who have lived significant lives are men who never waited: not for money, security, ease, or women.”
- “If you choose to go with your woman’s suggestion even when deep in your heart you feel that another decision is more wise, you are, in effect, saying, “I don’t trust my own wisdom.” You are weakening yourself.”
- “Your close men friends should be willing to challenge your mediocrity by suggesting a concrete action you can perform that will pop you out of your rut.”
- “If you feel it is demeaning for a woman to be the “object” of your polar attraction, then you have probably disowned your masculine core.”
- “Successfully completing a lesser purpose doesn’t feel very good for very long, because it is simply preparation for advancing toward a greater embodiment of your deeper purpose.”
- “As women get older, they typically take on more and more masculine tasks and responsibilities in our culture, so their radiance begins to decrease. In other cultures, this is less true.”
- “Once she feels your neediness and she feels that you need her more than she needs you, she will never trust your masculine core.”
- “If you are a man who is living the fullest, willing to play his edge and grow through difficulties, then you will want her to test you. You may not like it. But you don’t want her to settle for some bozo who depends on his woman’s response to be happy.”
The author points out that there is a cost of dating feminine women: they’re irrational and prone to emotional outbursts that seem to have no cause, but can usually be traced back to wanting to be loved by the masculine. He describes how to pass shit tests that feminine women will throw at you. Another topic the book covers that I don’t touch much on here is finding purpose. Is life a series of little goals that somehow make the man, or are they distractions and filler for the one thing that will define your life? I’m more in the former camp while the author is in the latter, but he gives some good insight into the problem.
Through her touch, her loving, and her attractiveness, she can also give you energy, so that your whole body becomes like an erection, full and alive, and ready to penetrate the world into love.
The best way to describe this book is a guy with some beta energy giving you an alpha kick in the ass. Once you get past the soft language you’ll find yourself inspired to get a feminine girlfriend, especially from reading the first half. It’s a rule book for masculine males who want a fulfilling relationship that involves love. At the same time it’s a celebration of feminine women and the men who love them. The author has several solid concepts, that although wrapped up in psychobabble and spiritual nonsense, will help you in your relationships. Therefore I highly recommend you read this book, but please don’t get mad at me when you come across a kooky passage.
Dan Ellsberg is a marine veteran who found civilian work as an analyst for the government contractor Rand during the cold war. He did simulations and other studies about the use of nuclear weapons in a possible war. As the Vietnam War was ramping up, he was handpicked to work two steps under the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon where he had access to top secret war files. This book is a memoir of how he participated in the planning of the war, how the government continuously lied to the American people, and how he took steps leak classified documents that he hoped would end the fighting.
One morning just before eight o’clock John came back from McNamara’s office minutes after he’d gotten a call and dashed out. He said to me, “A Blue Springs drone has gone down in China. Bob is seeing the press at eight-thirty. We have ten minutes to write six alternative lies for him.”
I was surprised at the amount of secrecy that goes on between branches of government, where they are just as concerned with hiding information from each other as from the public. It’s as if we have governments within the government with their own interests that don’t at all serve the people of the United States. Government institutions, especially in large countries, tend to become their own metastasizing tumors that are not accountable by the public, something that was shown in the book Breakdown Of Nations.
Vietnam was a boondongle from the start. Instead of learning from French mistakes , we dived head long into an engagement that was not winnable. There were many warnings to withdraw but our Kings—I mean Presidents—felt that by withdrawing, America’s prestige and power would be damaged, so they threw good money after bad and ended up losing anyway.
After witnessing first hand what was happening in Vietman during a tour there, Ellsberg became motivated to use his access to let the American public know what was really going on. He first leaked a couple of secret memos to the New York Times that were contributing factors to Lyndon Johnson not seeking re-election. When his successor escalated the war, Ellsberg went one step further and released the Pentagon Papers.
This is the system that I have been working for, the system I have been part of, for a dozen years—fifteen, including the Marine Corps. It’s a system that lies automatically, at every level from bottom to top—from sergeant to commander in chief—to conceal murder.
The Pentagon Papers was a classified history of Vietnam that contradicted the public story. It detailed how all Presidents involved in the war lied to the public without any intention of winding it down like they promised. At 7,000 pages long, it took Ellsberg a year to secretly copy it (today it would take 10 minutes to disseminate via USB key). He offered it to Congressmen but they didn’t have the balls to take it public. Eventually he gave it to a wary New York Times. They published a massive series on the papers that the Nixon administration unsuccessfully tried to silence in a case that made its way to the Supreme Court. It was the big story of the time that ruined the careers a lot of government men.
But did it end the war? It did not. The administration continued to escalate the war with its bombings in Cambodia and civilian centers in North Vietnam. When asked some time afterward what effect the leaking of the Papers had, something that almost sent him to prison, Ellsberg remarked that it made absolutely no difference. The public simply lost interest in the war, wanting to believe that we were on our way out when we weren’t. Just like the secret war we’re conducting today in Yemen, the public simply doesn’t care. You can have 100 Ellsbergs leak 100 Pentagon Papers today via Wikileaks and not much would change except the leakers would be locked up without trail and tortured.
The government learned that the best way to deal with a damaging leak was just to ignore it. Do you remember the Trapwire story not long back? It’s a network of surveillance cameras that monitor the public for “suspicious behavior” and reports back to a central office. It goes along nicely with the NSA vacuuming all our private data. The government didn’t address it and after a couple days it went back under the radar. It’s not so much the government is strong-arming us into submission—it’s that we’re voluntarily bending over due to apathy and not wanting to be inconvenienced.
A modern president’s practical ability to drop secretly several hundred thousand tons of bombs on a country with which we were not at war was a considerable tribute to the effectiveness of the postwar secrecy system. It gives our presidents a capability to initiate and escalate war in secret that was scarcely possessed by monarchs of the past.
What I liked most about this book was the personal story of how Ellsberg became when he hated. He was against the Vietnam War from the start, but later carried out duties that helped with the bombings that killed untold civilians. I believe his leaking of classified data was a way of personal redemption for the human carnage he participated in. It was a story of one man fighting his inner demons to do what was right, taking shots at a powerful government that couldn’t seem to squash him. It was an interesting book to read with a story that every American should know.
The author of this book, Ryan Holiday, created fake scandals for clients such as Tucker Max and American Apparel in order to get blogs to write about them. Since all major blogs like Gawker, Huffington Post, and Business Insider care about page views before anything else, he handed them controversial “scoops” that sent massive traffic. Subscribing to the school of “no publicity is bad publicity,” Holiday crafted scenarios that caused anger and indignation in order to increase the likelihood of the content spreading.
You get an inside look into how news is disseminated today via top blogs that are read by journalists and media influencers. You may not read Gawker, but those who run the news cycle do, so you can’t escape the influence that they have in the news you eventually receive. The bloggers who write for those sites are not journalists who adhere to stringent standards and ethics, but struggling hipsters who will exaggerate any story in order to hit a certain page view count (their salary is often tied to the views their writing receives).
One story that Jezebel launched a while back was how the producers of The Daily Show were not treating women fairly. It “traded up the chain” to big media until it was discovered that the Jezebel writer used dubious sources and got it all wrong. It was too bad for the show that the “update” post received a mere pittance of the views that the original story got. The blogging game is to break the story first, even if you happen to be wrong, and then correct it with a little paragraph in the end that few people will read. The name of the game is page views, and bloggers will do anything to get them.
This book makes you skeptical of what you read. With every story you need to ask yourself who benefits? What player in the story is getting coverage that will send his site traffic? What angle did the blogger take to juice the post’s views? Is what I’m reading actually news? It also gives you the basic knowledge on how to hack the system itself in the case you run a blog and want some of that sweet outrage traffic.
“Build a brand by courting controversy, breaking big scoops, driving comments, and publishing constantly.”
My favorite part of the book was reviewing the history of newspapers and how blogging is going through a similar progression. When newspapers first came out, they weren’t yet based on the subscription model, so they had to sell papers on the corner through the strength of their shouted headlines alone. This encouraged the papers to mislead in order to make the one-off sale. Blogs aren’t much different. In a sea of headlines, the blog with the juiciest bait will get the click. The result is a bunch of blogs going for the lowest common denominator in order to attract eyeballs and, in turn, advertising revenue. Holiday suggests that the integrity, honesty, and usefulness of today’s blogs won’t be improved unless they move to a subscription model like the newspapers did. In that system, you’re not a slave to the headline, and are able to pursue more in-depth and honest pieces that won’t fluctuate your day-to-day sales or traffic.
Holiday loses me when he starts whining about how bad bloggers are for falling for tricks from guys like him. Of course he’s angry after he made a lot of money for his clients, and one can’t help but smile to see that his clients got bit by the same types of sensational lies that he pushed himself. The drug pusher who was part of the problem is now telling everyone to go to rehab. While I was annoyed by this, I’ll forgive him since he attacked Jezebel quite a bit in the book. I also liked how he wasn’t afraid to take shots at annoying blogger personalities like Jeff Jarvis, Ariana Huffington, and Michael Arrington.
“The central question for the Internet is not, is this entertaining? but, will this get attention? will it spread?”
This book is most useful if you have a blog, but it should hold your attention even if you’re a reader of them. It’s an interesting insider look into a media world that—while barely ten years old—has completely shaped how information and news is shared.
I was excited about this book because I wanted to learn the effect that culture has on language in order to connect it with my recent experiences abroad. Unfortunately, I was greatly disappointed. The title should actually be “How Humans Perceive Color.” For 214 pages out of 305, the book focuses on the human eye. I thought I was reading a book about vision, not language, and in its many thousands of words I only picked apart a few things that were helpful, spending way too much time for very little intellectual gain. The end of the book tried to bring things home with psychological studies, but they proved nothing and only raised more questions than they answered. The book offered no real-world application, just something a mind can masturbate to. It’s like taking an advanced level linguistics class that tries to connect the dots, but fails horribly.
“Each language reflects the qualities of the nation that speaks it.”
“People find names for things they feel the need to talk about.”
This book did get me thinking about the vocabulary that comes with game and the act of pickup, like the words approach, cockblock, wingman, flake, and so on. If another language doesn’t have those words like we do, then you must conclude that the game culture there isn’t as advanced and that people probably still rely on traditional dating to pair the sexes. A place like Brazil, with a lot of pickup vernacular in Portuguese, predicts that pickup would be something like a national sport (it is), but in the languages of Eastern Europe it’s much less common, meaning you shouldn’t be surprised that many guys need to get drunk before even starting a conversation with a girl. I believe the more game terms a culture has in its own language, the more game you’ll need to have sex in that country.
There are a few interesting nuggets contained in the book:
- Tribes that have a language without a future tense tend to die out faster since they have no way of experiencing hope, suggesting it’s an emotion necessary for long-term human survival.
- The difficulty of a language is relative. Spanish is easy if you know English, but hard if you know Russian. A Slavic language that is impossible for me to learn is cake for those who know another Slavic language. Turns out that there is no scientific way to compare the complexity of two languages—it’s all relative.
- Language does not limit thought. You can teach theoretical physics to an Amazonian tribe in time—you’d just have to make up new vocabulary. The bible has been successfully translated and understood in over 400 languages.
- Some richness and tone is lost in translation, but rarely meaning. A Japanese guy who never approached a girl in his life would have no problem understanding me when I say “I got cockblocked by a 2″ if I phrased it thusly: “An ugly girl suddenly interrupted a conversation I was having with a desirable girl.”
Ultimately I felt this book was false advertising. I thought he would tell me how language influences culture, but it stuck mostly on color while touching briefly on how spatial perception and gendered nouns may also influence how people think. I may have to wait a decade or two until this part of linguistics beefs itself up with more substantial examples and conclusions.
When a language forces its speakers to pay attention to certain aspects of the world each time they open their mouths or prick up their ears, such habits of speech can eventually settle into habits of mind with consequences for memory, or perception, or associations, or even practical skills.
Do you want to read more book reviews? Click here for the newest reviews on my second blog Return Of Kings.