Amused to Death: The World of Neil Postman
Could it be that that Catholic bloggers are contributing nothing at all?
The Bear imagines most bloggers have their favorite posts. One of the Bear's is "Do You Suffer From a Low Information-Action Ratio?" It is an introduction to Neil Postman's book, Amused to Death, which introduced the concept. The Bear will not repeat it full here, but recommends it as a companion article, especially since some concepts may be unfamiliar (like "information-action ratio"). Essentially, a low information-action ratio exists when you know way too much than you can do anything about.
At the same time, there was something comforting about the conformity among the networks, identified mainly by their anchors. Walter Conkrite's fiat was, "And that's the way it is," at the end of the flagship newscast of CBS, and we could agree that it was, amen.
Or at least that our information-action needle had been driven down into the red zone. We indeed knew as gods, but there wasn't a thing we could do about any of it. The rest of television was, in the famous words spoken by FCC Chairman Newton Minnow in his 1961 speech: "a vast wasteland."
That was Postman's world.
Postman's World Updated
Today, those prestigious newspapers are struggling to stay alive, while television has crystallized into dozens of narrowcast facets, unapologetically giving their audience what they want 24 hours a day. People watch Fox News because it is congenial to conservatives. MSNBC caters to liberals. But you can dial it in much more precisely. Logo offers homosexual programming. There is no point in multiplying examples. This is our world, after all, and we all know it very well.
The "low information-action ratio" problem may be even worse on television today than it was in Postman's day. Nearly every story is designed to interest that network's particular audience. A news network sells outrage. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly even has an "Outrage of the Week." Our selected news network not only provides information. It manipulates our emotions, and demands action that we are powerless to undertake, and solutions that we are powerless to implement.
|Give the people the fish|
TV still may be a vast wasteland, but there are lush oases in serial fiction. Shows like "The Wire," or "Breaking Bad," were brilliant. There are many more that are good. Since they do not move our "information-action ratio," i.e. provide news about events we can do nothing about, we will not be discussing them.
Postman Meets the Internet
How the Bear wishes Neil Postman were still with us to bring Amused to Death into the internet age. But have things really changed that much? Do we still have an information-action ratio problem?
The Bear's answer is an unequivocal yes and no.
Certainly the premise of Amused to Death hasn't changed. It is another source of information that is supplementing the outlets of Postman's day. The information available on the internet is, for all practical purposes, limitless. Most of it is not filtered by an editorial process, and is of questionable veracity. It is the People's Newspaper in all its shame, glory, and goofiness.
It starts with the click. The eye-catching picture of a curiously arresting middle-aged woman who wants to teach you French. The carny barker's promise of the sensational or scandalous: "You won't believe what happened next..." But most Catholics have to get people's attention more modestly, say, by being a Bear, or using blog titles that subtly convey the act within the tent, e,g. Pope Francis the Destroyer (for real).
One of the best ways of promoting a blog you enjoy is to use the convenient buttons at the bottom of every article. You can easily link to Facebook, for example. This becomes relevant later.
What Postman could not foresee was the explosion of the internet, which gives everybody who has it the ability to create their own, custom-designed magazine, every day. As editor-in-chief, the user may select a housewife from Peoria and a half dozen other small blogs; a professional site with many contributors; a Catholic news aggregator like Pewsitter, that collects some of the best of the day's blog offerings; and maybe a secular news source or two.
Suddenly, the information-action ratio needle is buried in the red, bouncing on zero! To judge by the information, there are so many problems in the Church! And practically nothing we can do but pray! Never, the Bear asserts, has the information-action ratio been so low, so harmful. Yes, the Bear believes a steady diet of fish is healthful, but nothing but bad news is discouraging, even depressing.
Veterans. Pass this along or you hate veterans. Post this if you love Jesus. And guns. And during an election, political candidates. The tens of thousands of examples from which the Bear could choose accomplish one primary purpose: they make the passers-on feel empowered.
Or, in Postman's terms, they provide "action" and raise the information-action ratio, if only in an illusory way. After all, Tyana might benefit from your prayer, but not from your share.
However, there is something you can do that does actually accomplish something. Remember that Facebook, or Google Plus button? Small blogs such as St. Corbinian's Bear can actually benefit from exposure like that. So if you find an article interesting, please share. Your "action" is thereby increased by meeting the Bear's real need for exposure. It's win-win.
The Bear also has an agitprop section on the right of his page. They're not there just to be viewed as some museum of kitsch. You may easily download any of them, then upload them to your favorite social media site. (Would a tutorial on how to do that be useful?)
The knowledge that you have materially aided the Bear will increase your "action," which will make you feel better! (And thanks again to the folks who have donated, even small amounts. That is another method to increase your "action.") This is no joke, at least if Postman was right, as the Bear believes he was.
Of course, the above advice is equally true of any other blog you like, with the small blog gaining the most benefit.
NEXT: Part II -- the Bear Gets Serious About Bloggers