Academic journal article Afterimage

Praising Postman

Academic journal article Afterimage

Praising Postman

Article excerpt




APRIL 6, 2006

It was 1971 when I discovered Neil Postman. I was waiting in line at a university bookstore and Postman's latest book, The Soft Revolution: A Student Handbook for Turning Schools Around (1971), was displayed on an adjacent kiosk. On page 139, Postman presented a "Prospectus for a Ph.D. program in Media Ecology," defined as "the study of transactions among people, their messages and their message systems." My first Postman experience, though mediated by print, was similar to that of countless others who read his books, attended his lectures, or debated his theories with him. First curiosity is aroused, then assumptions are challenged, and finally, a committment to exploring a new way of looking at things is developed. For me, it was the start of a lifelong involvement in the approach to intellectual inquiry known as "Media Ecology." I was one of Postman's early doctoral students, and I have continued my involvement through the Media Ecology Association, an organization created by several of Postman's former students.

A friend and disciple of Marshall McLuhan, Postman developed his own approach to what is now known as media determinism. He believed that we can understand the moral implications of any medium if we uncover its hidden biases. He argued that any medium favors some members of society and penalizes others and the true purpose of media analysis is to become aware of these effects. Unlike other investigators of media effects, Postman believed we must assume a moral stance concerning the uncontrolled social experiments that the introduction of any new technology represents. On April 6, New York University, the institution that hosted Postman's doctoral program in Media Ecology for over thirty years, held a symposium celebrating the many intellectual seeds that Postman scattered throughout his lifetime. The program topics were divided into four general areas of concern to media ecologists: media and publics, language, education, and technology.

As part of the Media and Publics panel, Andrew Postman led with a discussion of his father's sense of humor. …

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