Watch people on the street: heads down, fixated on their “smart”phones, thumbs madly twiddling, as people walk into each other and trip over things. What are they texting each other about? New developments in quantum mechanics? Critical evaluations of alternative medical therapies? Ha. It’s witless chatter about what happened on their favorite sitcoms, how “we” are doing in the football standings, or whining about their romantic partners ignoring them. You know this because you can listen to them yell the same nonsense into their cellphones.
And what videos go “viral,” watched by millions? The recent report that arctic methane release is rapidly spiking upwards due to human-caused global warming? No, it’s some pop singer’s nipple-slip.
And where do people get their news from? Reliable independent investigative reporters? Or Fox?
Note that a couple of days ago the Guardian — a British newspaper — ran a story about how White House lawyers working for the Obama administration, within hours of a circuit court declaring NSA mass-data collection illegal, petitioned the secret FISA court to continue data collection illegally. Which major US media have picked up this story? None.
As to television: In 1973 a massive natural experiment was conducted when a small isolated Canadian town that had previously had no television signal began to acquire the CBC. “The introduction of television made kids more aggressive, harmed the acquistion of reading skills, decreased creativity scores, and cut participation in non-TV leisure activities,” among many other deleterious effects, with no good effects. (From a summary of the research, edited by the lead researcher)
And since Neil Postman wrote his brilliant book Amusing Ourselves To Death in 1985, things have only gotten much, much worse.