Muzak was bad enough. The baby-food music for adult ears was sickening, revolting, disgusting. One couldn’t shop, be examined by a doctor, or pay bills without the snaky seductive noise [I refuse to call it music] hissing from high corners.
But, lo, Muzak is gone.
In its place is the ubiquitous television hanging from the ceiling.
It’s in WalMart. It’s at the bank. It’s at the grocery store. It’s at the dentist, the doctor’s, the emergency room waiting room, the emergency exam rooms, the airport, the restaurant, the train station, the club. We are a people sedated by CNN and the weather channel. I don’t think even Neil Postman could have imagined this.
Yesterday I went to my bank where I know and am known by the “personal bankers”. As Karen was working through multiple transactions the flickering images from the television annoyed me to no end.
“I’ve always wondered about something,” I began. “That TV must also double for a surveillance system, right?”
Karen said, “No. It’s just there to entertain the customers.”
“You’re kidding! Even when I’m bringing in a merchant deposit, I’m never in here for more than ten minutes. Are you saying people can’t go that long without something to distract them?”
Karen nodded in disgusted agreement. “The bank pays $50 to the cable company every month to give our customers something to watch.”
Is it any wonder?
That we have stopped thinking?
That we don’t pray?
That we have problems focusing?
That serenity is missing from our lives?
That we’ve lost any concept of quiet?
That beauty is disappearing from our culture?
That we are isolated from our neighbors?
That discussions about ideas are almost nonexistent?
That we don’t wonder?
That we don’t ponder?
At home, our TV stays off except for a rare program or movie. It angers me that I cannot buy soap or pick up an artichoke in peace. It sickens me to watch our culture go through mental and spiritual chemotherapy with no termination in sight except for the death of our souls.
Television has become, so to speak,
the background radiation
of the social and
the all-but-imperceptible residue
of the electronic big
bang of a century past,
so familiar and so thoroughly integrated
culture that we no longer hear
its faint hissing in the background or see the
flickering grey light.
This, in turn, means that its epistemology goes largely
And the peek-a-boo world it has constructed
around us no longer
seems even strange.
There is no more disturbing consequence
of the electronic and graphic
than this: that the world as given to us through television
natural, not bizarre. For the loss of the sense of the
strange is a sign of
and the extent to which we have adjusted
is a measure of the
extent to which we have changed.
Neil Postman Amusing Ourselves to Death