Neil Postman

From Academic Kids

Neil Postman (March 8, 1931 - October 5, 2003) was a prominent American educator, media theorist and cultural critic. For more than forty years, he was associated with New York University.

Inspired by the values of Classical and Enlightenment culture, Postman was something of an old-fashioned humanist, who in the face of extraordinary technological change in contemporary society held firmly to his beliefs that there is a limit to the promise of new technology, and that it cannot be a substitute for human values.

Postman was born and spent most of his life in New York City. In 1953, he graduated from State University of New York at Fredonia. He received a master's degree in 1955 and a doctorate in education in 1958, both from the Teachers College, Columbia, and started teaching at NYU in 1959.

In 1971, he founded the program in media ecology at the Steinhardt School of Education of NYU, attracting a large audience for his lectures and writings over the years. In 1993 he was appointed a University Professor, the only one in the School of Education, and was chairman of the Department of Culture and Communication until 2002.

Postman wrote 18 books and more than 200 magazine and newspaper articles for such periodicals as The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Time Magazine, The Saturday Review, The Harvard Education Review, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Stern, and Le Monde. He was also on the editorial board of The Nation.

Perhaps his best known title is Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), in which he criticized the television industry for confounding serious issues with entertainment, demeaning politics by making it less about ideologies and more about image. Postman also argues that television is not an effective way of providing education, as it provides only passive information transfer, rather than the interaction that he believes is necessary to maximize learning. He draws on the ideas of media guru Marshall McLuhan, to form a theory on how different media are appropriate for different kinds of knowledge, and describes how oral, literate, and televisual cultures value and transfer information in different ways. He states repeatedly that the 19th century was the pinnacle of rational argument, truly being an Age of Reason. Only in the printed word, says Postman, could complicated truths be rationally conveyed. Amusing Ourselves to Death was translated into eight languages and sold some 200,000 copies worldwide.


I don't think any of us can do much about the rapid growth of new technology. However, it is possible for us to learn how to control our own uses of technology. The "forum" that I think is best suited for this is our educational system. If students get a sound education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, they may grow to be adults who use technology rather than be used by it. [1] (
Anyone who has studied the history of technology knows that technological change is always a Faustian bargain: Technology giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure. A new technology sometimes creates more than it destroys. Sometimes, it destroys more than it creates. But it is never one-sided.
The invention of the printing press is an excellent example. Printing fostered the modern idea of individuality but it destroyed the medieval sense of community and social integration. Printing created prose but made poetry into an exotic and elitist form of expression. Printing made modern science possible but transformed religious sensibility into an exercise in superstition. Printing assisted in the growth of the nation-state but, in so doing, made patriotism into a sordid if not a murderous emotion.
Another way of saying this is that a new technology tends to favor some groups of people and harms other groups. School teachers, for example, will, in the long run, probably be made obsolete by television, as blacksmiths were made obsolete by the automobile, as balladeers were made obsolete by the printing press. Technological change, in other words, always results in winners and losers. [2] (


  • Television and the Teaching of English (1961)
  • Teaching as a Subversive Activity (1969)
  • Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979)
  • The Disappearance of Childhood (1982)
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) ISBN 0140094385 (This inspired Roger Waters' album "Amused to Death")
  • Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (1988)
  • How to Watch TV News (1992) (with Steve Powers)
  • Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992)
  • The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (1995)
  • Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999)

External link

nl:Neil Postman


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