Following on from the discussion we listened to yesterday I thought back to an article by Neil Postman. I believe that we should all as individuals limit ourselves on our online spaces to ensure we don’t get so overloaded with information we become overwhelmed and expose ourselves to things that are somewhat irrelevant. Such ideas are expressed in the article, that as consumers of information we must detect what’s good and what’s not. Each of us are producing a stream of data and it’s our job to get it under control.
“Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection” by Neil Postman, a speech delivered at the National Convention for the Teachers of English on November 28th 1969 in Washington, D.C is brutal, humorous and honest. Also, the fact Postman uses the delightfully blunt word of “bullshit” to express his opinions on such matters of teaching, language and our exposure to it, is also quite enjoyable. Postman, quick and to the point, expresses how he feels we all need to distinguish between useful and non-useful (bullshit) language, in order to prosper by using our “crap-detection”. He is just as quick to point out I may add, that the term, “crap-detection” is a quote from one of this centuries greatest writers Ernest Hemingway, in which he discusses what quality is needed in order to be a good writer, “a built-in, shock-proof, crap detector”.
And the quote is quite right. In order to be a good writer or communicator one must filter what he or she hears, sees and reads. For example, reading a novel by Vladimir Nabokov compared to reading a celebrity’s twitter feed, would be of greater reading value and enhance one’s own imagination and understanding of great language. Postman feels we are overexposed to bullshit on a daily basis and in realisation and acceptance of this, we as individuals must alter the things we choose to be exposed to. As an outcome we will experience less non-useful language and information and have more effective crap-detectors, which is all very good. Postman identifies different forms of bullshit, using examples and elaborating on them. These include:
1. Pomposity-being objected to arrogant people who use overly intellectual or “fancy” words and phrases to hide their own inadequacies.
2. Fanaticism-being exposed to those who are or information that is wildly excessive or have irrational devotion, dedication, or enthusiasm, perhaps to religion or politics.
3. Eichmannism-is a new form of fanaticism whereby you are exposed to things that have no tolerance for any data that do not confirm its own point of view
4. Inanity –opinions and language that is empty of validity. 5. Superstition-beliefs that have no factual or scientific basis.
The parts in which Postman’s discusses inanity and superstition were the two forms of bullshit I feel are most relevant to this module of digital media and of modern times. He discusses how the development of mass media, bearing in mind this talk was from 1969 and the media has become even more advanced since then, has caused inanity to be a major form of language in public matters. These advances have given a voice and audience to people whose language or opinions are almost irrelevant, such as those of entertainers or celebrities and yet are presented with such sincerity we listen and choose to listen to them. I regularly read blogs of porn stars and their twitter accounts. Now that…might sound a little dim. However, their profession and opinions I choose to expose myself too because they intrigue me, even if they are talking bullshit. Their not in anyway politicians and with such a profession probably aren’t in the position to discuss world conflicts etc. nonetheless, I read and listen.
The language he uses is not in any way spectacular or poetic, nor does it need to be. It’s basically bullshit BUT many of us, myself included expose ourselves to such language and information all the time. I too blame the media and technological advances and Postman’s elaborations on inanity have definitely made me think of how much bullshit I willingly expose myself too. But James Deen is staying. Sorry Postman. In terms of superstition I feel in modern times and within this society as Postman mentions, our crap detectors reach new heights once religion comes into conversation or debate. Again I also feel technological advances have caused this way of thinking. We’ve come to understand and appreciate science and technology to be far more superior to religion because of the logic and proof they can provide.
Religion, Christianity being the most poignant in Western society, could be seen as bullshit, but for those who genuinely believe, or hold such ‘superstition’ will believe it. This is when Postman begins to talk about how one can master or teach crap-detection, by following the first and most important step. In order to sufficiently decide what is bullshit and what isn’t, one must first understand their own values. Like in the example above, you could either value science or religion, which would affect the language and information you are exposed to. As well as this, you must understand your own bullshit. For example, I always swear when I’m annoyed, as do most of us. It’s of no relevance. No importance. And it won’t solve world hunger. And so me saying that, is bullshit. In fact that whole example is too obvious and is bullshit. Apologies. But I understand what Postman is trying to get at. You must understand what type of person you are in order to filter what you are exposed to. “there is no more precious environment than our language environment” Agreed. I also found this really interesting and entertaining essay by Scott Berkun, instructing on how to detect bullshit. Enjoy!