It seems almost quaint today but back in 1985 the American cultural critic Neil Postman wrote a book warning that we were all Amusing Ourselves to Death. “Talking hair-dos” had turned TV news into showbiz entertainment, cheapening public discourse. Television, he wrote, had created a new “species” of information more properly described as disinformation — “misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information” that detracted from knowledge. Form now excluded meaningful content.
One trembles to think what Postman, who passed away in 2003, would have made of social media, which contains infinitely more creative forms to amuse ourselves. The emergence of the internet may have opened up extraordinary possibilities to deepen public discourse. But the spirit of our times was perhaps best captured by a tweet from Elon Musk at the weekend: “The most entertaining outcome is the most likely.”