Sunday, April 24, 2011

Neil Postman - Perpetually Clueless

Yesterday I attended a baseball game in Buffalo, NY: the Bisons versus the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. There was, as usual, a big video scoreboard in centerfield.

So this clueless quote from Neil Postman, recently posted on Doug Groothuis's blog, is appropriate:

"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."

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

As I commented to my young son, in many ways, watching baseball at a stadium is a much better experience today than it was when I attended my first game in 1967.

It's not that "TV is better than being there" or that it is "a surrogate for reality", as Postman claims - 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.

14 comments:

Hiero5ant said...

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.

The above paragraph could have been seamlessly inserted at the end of the Postman passage with no one the wiser. It seems only to reinforce and extend the original point, so it's difficult to pinpoint what specific thesis you object to (You even agree that it's a "much better experience"!)

It's also worth noting that at the time this was written, computerized graphics and instant nonlinear video editing were not widespread. The video Postman would have been referring to would have lacked many (but not all) of the features adduced as benefits.

Also, why are you still following that guy's blog?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

What Postman misunderstood is that people were not experiencing the game through TV; the screen is an adjunct. It's really no different than bringing a reference book or radio to the game.

Valhar2000 said...

The above paragraph could have been seamlessly inserted at the end of the Postman passage with no one the wiser

Well, I am not well acquainted with Postman's style: maybe Postman is fond of writing paragraphs that contradict the preceding paragraph, in which case Postman's paragraph followed by Shallit's would not seem out of place.

To me, however, it would look a little weird.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Well, well. Neil Postman, on of the most profound and truthful of media critics, dismissed with a wave of your hand.

I suggest your readers read his books, Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly, and see who is the wiser.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Doug:

I agree entirely. Read Technopoly, one of the most ignorant rants ever published, and anyone who actually knows anything about technology will see what a fraud Postman was.

In exactly the same manner, the Freedom from Religion Foundation encourages everyone to read the bible.

Jared said...

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.

- Why do you consider this to be an improvement?
- How exactly does having more information make the act of watching a game more enjoyable?
- Do you think that, perhaps the reason you like having an informative big screen, is simply because you no longer have to pay attention to the game for the entire time because the screen remembers things for you? Is putting forth less mental effort a good thing?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

How exactly does having more information make the act of watching a game more enjoyable?

I take it you are not a baseball fan. Heck, there's an entire industry revolving around baseball statistics; it's half of the game. Managers depend on the stats to make decisions. If the next player up is batting .150 and you're behind 2 runs in the 9th inning, then you might want to pitch hit with your .315 pitch hitter. Having the stats helps understand why managers make the decisions they do.

Do you think that, perhaps the reason you like having an informative big screen, is simply because you no longer have to pay attention to the game for the entire time because the screen remembers things for you?

If you can remember all the players' batting averages, great for you. Us mere mortals can't.

Jared said...

- Do you feel that you have to thoroughly understand something before you can enjoy it? Does knowledge always increase enjoyment?

- Doesn't the manager's ability to change out hitters take away from the "team" aspect of the game?

- Why do I need to know every player's batting average? Can't I simply watch the game and cheer for the "home" team without knowing that information? It seems to me, that as an average spectator, having that information would be fairly useless.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Jared:

You really don't know a damn thing about baseball, do you?

Jared said...

Either that, or I've found a way to enjoy the simple things in life. I guess I just don't see how knowing the statistics of the game can increase someone's enjoyment.

However, like other games, there is this thing in baseball called "rules of the game" which I, like any other spectator would need to have some inkling of, in order to enjoy. Strangely enough, I actually am aware of them.

Statistics, on the other hand, are really only useful for people who "work" in baseball or the more serious fans who operate a fantasy baseball league. The average spectator gains nothing from knowing them.

Since you won't intelligently answer my questions, I can only assume that your self worth is dependent on your knowing information that is essentially useless to yourself. What a pity.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Jared:

I hate to tell you, but "I don't see how" is not an argument; it's an admission of ignorance.

I've already explained how a knowledge of stats can help increase your understanding of the game. But all you could reply was "Doesn't the manager's ability to change out hitters take away from the "team" aspect of the game?" Questions like that simply indicate that you have absolutely no understanding of how baseball is actually played.

Jared said...

Actually, I asked you a couple of different questions besides that one. Perhaps I should just ask one at a time, so you don't feel too overwhelmed? Please let me know how I can best accommodate you.

Most of my questioning revolves around whether or not having more information about something can increase your enjoyment of it. You seem to not know the difference between the terms: "knowledge" and "enjoyment". Perhaps a trip to Dictionary.com is in order?

Again, my purpose of saying "I don't see how" is because you have yet to enlighten me and answer any of my actual questions. Yep, you sure did answer the question of "how a knowledge of stats can help increase your understanding of the game", however since I didn't ask that question, I have to wonder why you answered it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Jared:

Why do you think record albums offered liner notes? Why do fans of Star Trek construct elaborate web pages summarizing each episode? Why do people read biographies of their favorite pop star, athlete, scientist?

Surely you can't be serious when you question "whether or not having more information about something can increase your enjoyment of it". This is just so enormously stupid that I think you're trolling. And I have no patience for trolls, sorry.

Anonymous said...

Jared doesn't enjoy reading this blog because you haven't provided him the information he wants.