The best treatise on why and how television renders those who watch it dumb and dumber. Amusing Ourselves to Death analyzes the structure of television production to demonstrate that successful TV sabotages the viewer’s capacity for concentration and learning. The brain functions like a muscle. To acquire complex knowledge the brain integrates new information into already existing basic learning acquired through routine and practice. Television and movies succeed because they entertain and they entertain primarily by presenting rapidly changing images. TV and film producers understand that to maintain a viewer’s attention new images must be presented approximately every 7 seconds. The more the brain gets used to processing information by rapidly changing imagery the less it is ready to do the heavy lifting of building knowledge on the basis of sequential information. The first major consequence is that habitual television watchers not only disdain sequential learning eventually they become incapable of it. The second dramatic upshot is that the information conveyed by TV cannot ever be complex and is, therefore, always superficial and misinforming. Amusing Ourselves to Death posits that television has rendered the American public incapable of democratic citizenship.
“What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be call disinformation...Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information -- misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information -- information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads away from knowing.” (107)