“Together, this ensemble of electronic techniques called into being a new world – a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again… a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining.” – Neil Postman

I read this statement by Postman and it led me to really analyze aspects of our social environment, including news (about which Postman writes extensively). A friend and I were recently talking about the news because she feels compelled to be better informed. We had a lengthy discussion about news and what it means to be “informed”.

I am torn on the subject as a whole. I feel as though I should have a better grasp on the happenings of the world as I am a part of it, but I don’t care to immerse myself too deeply, nor do I know when enough information is enough (back to that in a minute). While I have an interest in information about, for example, the genocide in Darfur, there are many “newsworthy” stories reported daily that I do not care about or need to know. I feel as though society disapproves of my deliberate naiveté, but why does it really matter to anyone?

I no longer watch the news because I find it incredibly disheartening; many of the stories are full of the horrible things people are doing to each other. Maybe I’m too empathetic, but I find myself very affected by the news. I’m a sensitive person, but perhaps I’m more easily upset because I watch/read it so rarely. Perhaps that turns a harsh light on our society’s desensitization to these events. Postman talks about the effects of hearing 45-second reports on various stories – murders, robberies, etc. Regardless of how upset these stories make any person feel, they will always be followed by a commercial break and, after the news program ends, a sitcom or some other entertaining show. We’ve trained ourselves to remove the coherence of the events and have molded a “world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the future, or to other events” (Postman).

And we can do nothing to stop, help or change most of these bits of news – they’ve already happened. I also feel like certain people keep up with the news simply to have something to discuss – to be “in the loop” when someone asks, “Did you hear about the  ______ that happened in ______?” Not everyone fits into this category, but some do.

The friend that suggested Postman to me in the first place is fond of the following quote:

“… There has been no worthwhile discussion, let alone widespread understanding, of what information is and how it gives direction to a culture.” – Neil Postman

Though people feel an innate hunger to consume ever-increasing amounts of information, does anyone ever question why?


One thought on “peek-a-boo.

  1. Dave

    Here are a couple quotes that I think might pertain to the discussion of whether the news is the best or even a good way to be informed about the world:

    “So again, we have almost up to the last instant trusted the newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just recently some of us have seen (not slowly, but with a start) that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by the nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men. We have not any need to rebel against antiquity; we have to rebel against novelty. It is the new rulers, the capitalist or the editor, who really hold up the modern world. There is no fear that a modern king will attempt to override the constitution; it is more likely that he will ignore the constitution and work behind its back; he will take no advantage of his kingly power; it is more likely that he will take advantage of his kingly powerlessness, of the fact that he is free from criticism and publicity. For the king is the most private person of our time. It will not be necessary for any one to fight again against the proposal of a censorship of the press. We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press.” – G.K. Chesterton, “Orthodoxy”

    “Language…does not permit the consideration of all aspects of behavior at once. An individual who wishes to speak or write about an event must use language which by necessity refers to some selected aspect of that event. A listener is capable of understanding the event in its entirety only after having studied not one but a great many selected aspects. Because this procedure is very time-consuming and renders written reports rather bulky, shortcuts are frequently taken and consequently many details are omitted. When fewer words are used and a lesser number of aspects are treated, the listener is inclined to pay too much attention to what is mentioned and disregard that which is omitted. This peculiarity of language and the resulting difficulties in the description of behavior have brought about certain verbal classifications which are not based upon the characteristics of pathology but rather upon those of the human reporter and the language he uses.” – J. Ruesch, “Disturbed Communication”

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