Cheat Sheet for Chapter 1 of Amusing Ourselves to Death


I appreciate that many of you may not get through the book Amusing Ourselves to Death and, even if you do, you may struggle to follow parts of the argument. To help everyone out, throughout this challenge I’ll send out what in America we affectionately refer to as ‘CliffsNotes’. Most of us survived high school thanks to the help of Uncle Cliff. Here are highlights from chapter 1.

1 - Las Vegas Is a Symbol of America

Postman asks the question, ‘Which city best symbolizes modern American culture?’ His answer is Las Vegas.

‘For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public increasingly takes the form of entertainment. Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.’

2 - First We Make Our Tools, Then We Become Them

Postman claims that new forms of technology transform how we converse with one another. Our discourse changes as we adopt new forms of discoursing. Thus, for example, the advent of television radically changed the nature of politics. Politicians suddenly not only had to sound the part, but look the part. Of course, a similar point could be made regarding the rise of social media. Conversions (including sermons) are increasingly clipped down to shorter and shorter soundbites, usually attached to a lot of emotional imagery. We need to think carefully about how this Brave New World is changing us. After all, Paul tells us not to be conformed (Rom 12:2), and Hebrews warns us against unconscious drift (2:1).

Questions for Group Discussion/Self-Reflection

  1. Postman says,‘The clearest way to see through a culture is to attend to its tools for conversation.’ What does email, texting, and social media reveal about our culture?

  2. Postman claims that new forms of technology change how we think, how we express ourselves, and how we feel about the world. Technology, he says, is like a language that filters our experience of reality. How does holding an Iphone connected to an Instagram account affect our experience of the world and relationships with other people?