The Distractions within Facebook (Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman Book Review)


Most of the time when I think about boredom, it brings along some negative connotations.  Staying inside and doing nothing is boring, just the feeling of doing nothing is overwhelming. However, as humans we consistently seek ways to distract ourselves from being bored, we watch television, we go on social media, and etc. This urge to distract ourselves from being bored allows Silicon Valley companies to make billions of dollars from our boredom.  

Neil Postman’s novel, Amusing Ourselves to Death, depicts how instead of valuing our boredom, distractions are placed to satisfy our needs of entertainment. “The Age of Show Business,” shows how these distractions harm our society, and take away from our understanding of the world. Neil Postman offers an insight into some topics discussed by Harris as well; by identifying many ideas regarding the effect of television on public discourse, with one of them focusing around the idea of boredom and distractions.    

Consequently, Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, discusses how these big corporations use distractions to lure consumers into a trap which brings in tremendous profit for themselves. He expands on the idea of phones changing our behavior, attitude, and our conversations. Which leads us to the question of, to what extent does a distraction change our perception of what we’re looking at?  

However, many people can easily dismiss this topic, and claim that it does not apply to them.  Though if you have a phone, and use it on a daily basis, there are people on the other side of the screen, who are manipulating and understanding your psychology to maximize your screen time on that particular app. “It's not just taking away our agency to spend our attention and live the lives that we want, it's changing the way that we have our conversations.”(Harris)  A single device is changing our whole entire world, regardless of any discrimination, from kids to the elderly, technology is changing the world we live in. These companies want to have an audience that will stay on their app the longest to increase their own profits.  To affirm this, I will be using the well known app; Facebook.  

A vast quantity of features are displayed on Facebook which are designed to keep the viewer on the screen.  The news feed is cut into snippets, in an effort to interest and entertain the viewer, but not for the sole purpose of informing the user about the world surrounding them. Postman would most definitely not have been surprised, rather I envision that he would have questioned the ability of the audience in engaging with some mode of effective communication. 

Another thing that Postman would have argued is ‘the image culture,” where information is not rational but entertaining. This culture, which revolves around a sequence of images, to make information more entertaining can contrast to Tristan Harris’ idea of the news feed on Facebook, which cuts snippets of news into enjoyable moments.

Furthermore, Postman would have also questioned the tactics placed as distractions on these apps. This hunger for distraction instead of knowledge which is easily satisfied by the touch of your finger, expresses how today's generation will continue to place their entertainment before their knowledge. You can go from looking at an interview you keep on scrolling down and before you know it, you’re looking at how to get a wine stain out of a carpet all on one app.  

Harris’ offers the insight of keeping the user on for as long as possible, to understand their psychology which would ultimately,  help the person behind the screen develop a better understanding of the viewer. Therefore the more time the audience spends on Facebook, the more likely they are to not be able to hold a conversation which impacts their conversation skills as well as their ability to participate in a public conversation. The prompt fear of missing out, and not knowing what is going on is what drives the audience to run to Facebook, when something happens or is happening. However, when Harris expands on the harm of Facebook like this, it also brings up the point of how entertainment can ruin our ability to respond to certain events.  

In light of Postman’s thinking and his discussion of how this has become a” show business” in its entirety, the point of this recurring factor of boredom should not be overlooked. Once you feel like you're bored, you pick up your phone and go to Facebook to see what someone else is doing. Facebook is tailored to fit your beliefs, hence it leaves the viewer thinking that there is only one side to the story. To offer a solution, Harris brings up the point of knowing that we as humans are persuadable. This way our conversation as a society will not be impacted, it would be abundant and rich with many opinions.  However, I think that Postman would contradict this by stating that it would depend on which media outlet or news channel is saying this. Why? Mostly, because of the fact that a difference of opinion will always be present, hence companies like Facebook use it to their advantage.

Tailored and customized information fits into your Facebook page, to keep you scrolling on the app.  While you are exploring it, the realization of the other side which contradicts your beliefs is easily dismissed. Thus creating a huge misunderstanding between the several opinions on one issue. Through Facebook, millions of people are put into a misunderstanding of the world around them, the information they receive is bias.  Postman would have not been surprised, because of seeking a distraction the world news has become a source of entertainment. Postman and Harris’ ideas of making information relevant and knowledgeable rather than pleasurable and amusing coincide with each other.  By presenting these stances of today’s public discourse, the idea of profit and loss is understood.  While we profit by having a distraction that satisfies our boredom, we lose the idea of a public conversation where people understand what is being discussed, and the idea of the news informing us on events occurring around the globe.

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