Sunday, April 24, 2011

Neil Postman

"Media may now be serving as a surrogate for reality, and a preferred one at that. At stadiums throughout the country, huge TV screens have been installed so that spectators can experience the game through TV because TV is better than being there, even when you are there." -Neil Postman (1979)

17 comments:

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Postman has got to be one of the most overrated media commentators ever.

I just attended a baseball game with a big video screen, and I commented to my young son about how much better the game experience is today than it was when I attended my first game.

It's not that "TV is better than being there" or that it is "a surrogate for reality", whatever that means.

It's that a big screen offers more information than the scoreboard of 1967: you get the batter's average and other statistics; you get a reminder of what happened earlier in the game when that batter was up; and you get instant replays of interesting plays you might not have fully appreciated or understood the first time around.

Postman never really understood media; his observations are generally self-important, trite, and ignorant.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Mr. Shallit is guaranteed to oppose anything I say on this blog.

You miss Postman's essential point: we have too much information to properly handle, and it is usually decontextualized.

Technology has ruined baseball. There is no unmediated experience of the game. You are overloaded, overwhelmed with special effects that detract from the actual playing of the game. That's why I gave up on my beloved game about a decade ago.

Jer said...

As usual your arrogant tone to Mr. Shallit is quite off-putting.

"Technology has ruined baseball. There is no unmediated experience of the game."

Was there ever an unmediated experience of the game, or is this just in your imagination? Clearly having a P.A. Announcer mediates the game from a spectator's perspective, assuming said spectator is not deaf! To the best of my knowledge P.A. Announcers have been part of the game for decades! Why was this not an issue for you all of those years?

"You are overloaded, overwhelmed with special effects that detract from the actual playing of the game."

Contrary to what you make think, you can only speak for yourself on this one and speculate about others experiences. I for one am not mentally overwhelmed by said mediation, so as to let it detract from my experience of the game! I use discernment in choosing what I pay attention to and by the Grace of God thoroughly enjoy my time at the ballpark!

Jer said...

As usual your arrogant tone to Mr. Shallit is quite off-putting.

"Technology has ruined baseball. There is no unmediated experience of the game."

Was there ever an unmediated experience of the game, or is this just in your imagination? Clearly having a P.A. Announcer mediates the game from a spectator's perspective, assuming said spectator is not deaf! To the best of my knowledge P.A. Announcers have been part of the game for decades! Why was this not an issue for you all of those years?

"You are overloaded, overwhelmed with special effects that detract from the actual playing of the game."

Contrary to what you make think, you can only speak for yourself on this one and speculate about others experiences. I for one am not mentally overwhelmed by said mediation, so as to let it detract from my experience of the game! I use discernment in choosing what I pay attention to and by the Grace of God thoroughly enjoy my time at the ballpark!

Robert Velarde said...

In context Postman has much more to say on this isolated quote (see chapter 4 of Teaching as a Conserving Activity). I find it strange that people go to an outdoor sporting event only to often stare at large television screens rather than experience the direct reality that is around them.

At any rate, the Western mentality and fascination with sports opens up many other questions in and of itself. In relation to this Postman quote, I have greater concerns about large screens in churches. It often takes our attention away from the message and redirects it to the appearance of the person delivering the message, which, in turn, shifts our focus from discernment of truths to appreciation or criticism of appearances.

Tom Wanchick said...

I love Postman, but this is a bad argument. People watch the TV screens at games mainly because their view is obscured or unclear at times, or for replays and such. I don't see this is as a sign of media's ill effects.

Tom Wanchick said...

I love Postman, but this is a bad argument. People view TV screens at games mainly to catch things they missed or replays, etc. I don't think this is a sign of media's ill effects.

Robert Velarde said...

It's not a bad argument when understood in context. The quote is isolated from the broader context of an entire chapter wherein Postman is building a case for the negative effects of television as part of our information environment (this quote is merely one portion of one section of this case he is building; there are six or seven broader sections in the chapter).

In this context the quote fits very well. Postman is arguing that the extensive nature and growth of televisions in our environment can distance us from reality. People now go to a sporting event, outdoors, and stare at screens. Or they are in a hospital waiting room and they stare at screens. Or they are at the airport and they stare at screens. Or they are at the supermarket and they stare at screens. Etc.

The proliferation of screens adds other elements to our media environment, and sometimes the results of what happens on these screens are negative.

At any rate, read the entire chapter before simply dismissing the quote.

Tom Wanchick said...

Even in context, I'm not in agreement. First, people don't typically stare at screens at sporting events. They look at them occasionally for specific reasons (replays, etc.). Those are distinct actions.

Secondly, just because something is overdone does not mean we should never do it. Many people talk on their cell phones everywhere they go, which I agree is a negative overall. But it doesn't follow that we should never talk on our cell phones (e.g., emergencies).

Similarly, watching screens constantly is bad. But that doesn't make looking at screens uniformly bad (e.g., re-watching a homerun at a Yankees game).

Postman was great, but he made mistakes, too. I think this was one of them.

Tom Wanchick said...

Even in context, I disagree. First, people don't typically stare at screens at sporting events. They look at them occasionally for certain reasons (e.g., replays). Those are distinct actions.

Second, just because something is overdone doesn't mean it should never be done. Many people talk on their cell phones too much. That doesn't mean they should never talk on their cell phones (e.g., emergencies).

Postman was great, but he made mistakes, too. I think this was one of them.

Robert Velarde said...

Tom, have you read the entire chapter? Have you read the entire book? If not, you are not in a position to dismiss the isolated quote.

You are, in my estimation, missing the larger point that Postman makes in the book regarding the detrimental effects of television in the media environment of culture. The influence of screens on our culture has consequences, and they are largely negative when it comes to human relationships, epistemology, coherence of reality, etc. They have fundamentally altered how we interact.

Stacy said...

Robert,
I agree with Postman's overall point about screens. But his use of stadium screens here is inapt. Stadium screens have a real function that is not typically abused like televisions are.

It's just factually false that people believe it's better to watch on the stadium screen rather than watching live. Postman exaggerated here. And since they aren't abused in this way, I don't think they are really part of the overall "screen" problem.

Bill said...

I think Jeffery and Dr. Groothuis are both right.

Jeffery is correct as people don’t attend live sporting events to watch the scoreboard. The scoreboard is there to provide enhanced statistical information (Coors Field scoreboard vs. Wrigley Field’s scoreboard) and to view replays—both which make the game experience better. Sports today move very quickly and having a large, high-definition scoreboard so everyone in these giant stadiums can watch replays and read information about the game and its players isn’t a bad thing.

Dr. Groothius is correct in that the entertainment situation at live sporting events is out of control. There is waaayyy too much going on at games besides the game. The music alone being blasted every time something happens (really bad at NBA games when they play music during the action) is enough to drive a fan crazy. Then there is the scoreboard in Dallas, which one could argue actually does take the place of watching the game itself. Dr. Groothius is right that the game, and only the game, should be reason enough and entertaining enough to attend a live sporting event. If you can’t enjoy just being at Coors Field and just watching the Rockies, then the overloading of entertainment stimulation is a problem.

Quintessential said...

I can't comment on sporting events, because I do not attend the those kind of events at big stadiums. But I can say that it drives me crazy to see a video of the platform of a church when the platform is already right in front of me.

:mic said...

1. This is why I go to games at Wrigley Field.

2. Arguing baseball is missing the point. The argument stands regardless of whether or not you agree of technology's effect on baseball.

3. Somewhat ironically, I am reminded of a scene in the movie 'Ocean's Eleven' where one of the characters is sitting in his hotel room watching another hotel being demolished - which is directly behind him (outside the window). Makes a strong point.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Prof. Groothuis censored my second comment, so I'll try again:

First, I would think that, as a professor, Prof. Groothuis would welcome reasoned disagreement. I disagreed, but I gave my reasons why. If everyone agreed with Prof. Groothuis, wouldn't he find it a dull world?

Second, I don't feel that there is too much information to handle at games, and I don't know what it would mean for information like batting average, etc., to be "decontextualized".

Third, what has decreased my appreciation for baseball is not the extra information, but the relentless commercialism.

JN Anderson said...

Excellent quote from Postman. Thanks for sharing.