Amusing Ourselves to Death, Chapter 1: The Medium Is the Metaphor

The form of public discource in American culture has changed from print to image. How has the content also changed? Postman writes in order to discuss this question. 

He offers examples of how medium controls message, including smoke signals, graven images, clocks, written alphabet, glasses, microscopes, IQ, and mathematics.  These illustrate Marshall McLuhan , “The medium is the message.” (8)

The form of human conversation (“conversation” refers to all of the information exchanged and all of the techniques to exchange it) affects what is convenient to express. What is convenient to express becomes the content of culture. Therefore, the form of conversation affects the content of the culture. For example, a society that primarily uses smoke signals is not likely to discuss philosophy; it would take too long and be too difficult. In the same way, a person with an ugly body will not look good on TV and therefore not be elected President. One’s body is not relevant to one’s ideas when one is expressing them through radio or print. But on TV, visual imagery reigns. Therefore the form of TV works against the content of philosophy. Therefore you cannot do political philosophy on TV.

A new tool contains a new idea that goes beyond the tool itself. Eyeglasses corrected vision in the twelfth century but the idea that went beyond the glasses was that man could improve his body. The clock is another tool that contained a powerful idea. Before, time was a product of nature measured by the sun and seasons. Now, time is measured by a machine using minutes and seconds. The clock changed us into time-watchers, then time-savers, and finally time-servers. Thus, changing the metaphor for time changed how we view time itself.

The written alphabet is a different tool than the spoken. It changes the metaphor for speech from voice to something else. It freezes speech. It changes focus from the ears to the eyes. It then allows the grammarian, the logician, the rhetorician, the historian and the scientist to study it.

He closes the chapter with this logical progression: We converse about nature and ourselves in languages that make it convenient. We don’t see nature itself; our view of it is shaped by our language. Our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture. (15)

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7 comments so far

  1. hello on

    thanx for the comment it helped me alot 🙂

  2. Maggie on

    I’m reading this book for a communications class in college. I was having a hard time grasping the concept of the media metaphor but you totally made me get it! Thanks for sharing your interpretation of the writing!

  3. Daniel on

    Thanks a lot. I’m reading this for my AP GOV class for my senior year. It quite a difficult read, but through explanations online I’m starting to get it. Thanks.

  4. becky on

    thank you for this easy reading…I guess the media is to blame for my ignorance therefore not being able to understand this book! Not a fan!

  5. melody on

    This really cleared my conception about the chapter but where can i get other chapters summary?

  6. Mohammed on

    Although I’m in high advance class, but It is not an easy book especially for a second English speaker like me…instructor makes it a requirement for our reading class follow by presentation.

  7. Maddie on

    I am reading this in Ap Lang. and Comp. as a junior in highschool. You must have a very comprehensive mind to be able to read it and understand it correctly. We have to write a one page summary of his thesis. We must also choose ten passages and explain how they strengthen or weaken his argument.


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