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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Neil Postman: information quotes

This post is a collection of quotes about information from Neil Postman (1931-2003) from two interviews with The Open Mind in 1990 and 1999. I recommend listening to the interviews. There are 8 quotes listed below chronologically. Sources: Neil Postman - The Open Mind Interviews, 1990, 1999, WNET Group


1. "Beginning in the mid 19th century, we began what you call the 'communications revolution' and going on into our own century, we now have flooded our culture with media of communication technologies that are devoted to filling up our lives with information. And so for the first time, too much information becomes now a problem to be solved." (1:28:58, 1990)


2. "Some people say that the great long range advantage of the computer, will in fact, be in that direction. Not that the computer will be a great information dispenser but that it will be an information destroyer in that it will help people sort out the irrelevant from the relevant, but I don't see much of that yet happening." (1:31:23, 1990)


3. "It is possible to invent technologies that would actually restrict for you the availability of information but so far it seems very clear to me that the great crisis in America, especially, by the way in education is that we are overwhelmed, flooded, drowning in information. No one knows what to do with it. No one knows how to classify it." (1:31:57, 1990)


4. "I think... the newspaper of the future, might have to move more in that direction... Not just to have information but to classify it so that it would have some moral or sociological meaning. Let's take the front page of the New York Times for example. Probably 15 stories I would say each day. What does one of the stories have to do with any of the other stories?" (1:35:46, 1990)


5. "To know what to do with information depends on one having some sort of conceptual framework. I sometimes call it... some narrative, some story which helps you decide what information you will seek out and why you want you want to seek it out and what it's good for." (1:40:26, 1990)


6. "What to do with all the information we now have? ...This is a real 21st century problem because this is something people have never had to face before. What do you do when information becomes a form of garbage? What do you do with it? How do you manage it? What part of it do you need?" (2:03:36, 1999)


7. "...newspapers in the 18th century... were not overwhelmed by information, that is there was of course plenty of information, but it was not in such abundance that our minds were confused by it, so that it was possible to organize information in a way that would produce both knowledge and hopefully wisdom." (2:10:16, 1999)


8. "We probably do need a new way of organizing what we call news. We need a new conception of what is news. And I have no way of, I mean no great optimism... about whether or not newspapers will go in this direction." (2:15:08, 1999)