When was I in junior high school, otherwise now known as middle school, my heart would delight when I would see the AV kids (that’s audio-visual for the uninitiated) there when I entered a room. This would mean that there, in the back of the room, was a projector that would show us a film. Did I love films and that is why I was so happy? No, not even close. It was the equivalent of a substitute teacher. A film meant that we could kick back and do absolutely nothing for the whole period of class time. There was no thinking, no note taking, no discussions, and with the light low, you could pretty much get away with anything. What a great educational tool. We might as well be watching “Leave It to Beaver” and in some cases, when they showed some family situation with a Dad and enthusiastic kid, it was just the same type of hilarious campy humor we had come to depend on when it came to watching those old shows on TV.
Another dysfunctional classroom or group occurrence is when one person so dominates a discussion that it leaves everyone else in a position that they cannot get a word in edgewise. Generally, this person wants everyone to know they have all the answers yet, in most cases, do not know anything more than everyone else in the group. Even worse, often times they are what I call the “moronic zealot” meaning the less they know the more they try and force everyone over to their way of thinking. The result is that no one else wants to contribute to the discussion.
Twenty-five years ago, Neil Postman wrote a book titled “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Postman’s idea was that the medium influences or even dictates what we know. With language, oral tradition had to rely on what the mind could process and things were passed along by memory. The printed word changed all that. Writing allowed for the time it took to discuss, persuade, argue, retract, correct, and hypothesize. Knowing belonged to reason. However, with the advent of electricity, information could now be moved without “space” with such things as the telegraph. This revolution continued with television as our way of knowing became visual to the cultural apex known as entertainment. We were now in the Age of Show Business. Information is a commodity and as such does not allow for complexity or sequential learning and requires no prior knowledge, context, nor history.
In my last blog post, I discussed the SIIMP index which measured the relationship between image and substance. Postman’s argument is that image has buried the exposition of the printed word into a cultural world of information presented as entertainment. His work predated the internet though. I have also written about that the internet could be used to restore fairness to money by allowing for information to be passed along from the bottom up. The question becomes can the internet be a tool to restore seriousness to our cultural world and help to wean us off the entertainment teat? Postman said Aldous Huxley imagined it correctly in that there was no need for the government big-brother prison-like world of Orwell when we have a Soma world where we can watch, laugh at, and baby-talk ourselves into oblivion. Will the internet just be an extension of the amusement park world or can it be a tool to restore growth, progress, and otherness to a world of sense-driven image?
The internet is a hybrid form of medium. It does not pass along information sequentially but allows the user to follow whatever links they choose. While it has much in the way of visual content, with the extreme being video sites, it also uses the printed word. Postman warned that entertainment had polluted newspapers in that it also had to pass along information as entertainment especially in the form of a USA Today type quick and easy approach. This is certainly the case for much of our internet browsing. Most readers will not have the patience to stay on a page for more than a few seconds. Congrats if you are still here. The site analytics of this website shows BoodleWorld to have such a long tail of readership. In other words, many of the readers spend an average of a minute or so on a page or even the site. Then, there are a few though who spend quite a long time, by today’s standards, on the site, meaning a half-hour or more. The web is filled with countless serious in-depth articles (present company exluded of course) with many sites that have a literary feel to them. Even more, there are many thoughtful comments to go along with the articles from a somewhat sophisticated readership. There are also blogs about very important issues in our lives which can be countered on the other hand by short tweets on who is wearing what outlandish clothing and what gossip is leveled around the “can you believe this” variety.
So which is it, just another form of speed-reading entertainment or some in-depth dialogue? If Postman is correct about media, the internet will, and has, changed our way of knowing the world just as printing and television has. Each person seems as though they can use the internet like some AV classroom film that keeps us from taking up the better parts of our nature or they can make and search out new opinions for moving our culture forward. One thing that seems relevant is that time spent watching TV, especially for younger generations, has been cut in order to make-up for all the internet browsing. My generation, which is the Boomer Gen, was raised on TV. I doubt that most of our television watching has gone down dramatically. However, more and more, new generations have been raised with the internet and computers. In our image driven world, the expert is the media catalyst. There are self-professed experts on every subject and issue imaginable. We are so used to talking heads that many of us feel we need these experts to sort everything out and don’t trust our own knowledge or intuition. Also, there is so much information zipping around that we use experts such as critics to sort out what to read and what to see. Most of my generation though do not spend time perusing the internet to make their opinions known. However, we were not raised on the computer. We did have letters-to-the -editor form of communication which has also dropped off significantly since television mesmerized the masses.
The problem with all the smart phones and internet chatter is that most of it is mindless quick-and-easy communication. We connect with each other more than ever but it is a superficial connection similar to our television entertainment style. There is no substitute for real social contact especially if this technology keeps us from experiencing the face-to-face connection. One thing that in-depth exposition does is to take us out of the frivolous and trivial. Unfortunately, like the classroom’s moronic zealot, so many of us get turned off by this baby-talk and defer to experts rather than try and make our own opinions known by contributing to dialogues that will help to make our world a better place. Also, there is so much visual stimulation on the internet that keeps us set in our ADHD television mindset.
There is another way of knowing the world and that is neither sense nor reason. That way is beyond this epistemology to the spiritual. As I wrote about in my previous blog post, these forms of knowing are what can contribute to well-being and can contribute with all forms of knowledge, to restore our world from the sense is “nonsense” method of experience. Money, as materialism, is the image-driven world but money is also intertwined with deeper forms than just sense. Hopefully, future generations that have be inculcated in the bottom-up form of expression that the internet offers, will have other priorities and values than just image and gravitate toward the substance side of knowing.
The pragmatic side of me seems to think that we have gone too far and cannot reverse a waterfall from its source. The idealist side to me seems to think that no one can control where a new generation’s heads and hearts will lie. In either case, we need a cultural elbow to the ribs. For this to really work, all our institutions and groups have to rally around a new cultural narrative. While the internet can set the stage, I believe what would be especially helpful would be using our educational institutions. Education can promulgate the values of exposition, social experience, worthwhile dialogue, and experience that goes beyond entertainment and image. There is no substitute for a learning environment which a group keeps exploring and probing a subject that a good facilitating teacher can exploit. Our educational institutions can also encourage each of us to use the internet, word-of-mouth, and social groups to understand and try and counteract the image-entertainment driven world. Hopefully, the medium of the internet will turn out to be substance producing and not substance abuse. Otherwise, let’s cue up the AV film and amuse ourselves to death.