Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reading: The Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman

I must announce before I begin this review that I did not actually read this book page by page.  I listened to the audiobook.  Before listening, I didn't really think things through about whether this audiobook would be added to my list of books read this year.  I feel as if I have cheated in some ways and it does not feel like I have truly read the book but alas I have listened to it chapter by chapter and now I will do my best to write a solid review.  I do intend to come back to this book someday and actually read it instead of listening to it because the topic is very interesting and one I would certainly love to look into more.
In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman makes the argument that childhood is disappearing and at the heart of it's disappearance is technology.  While technology adds a lot to our lives and in some ways makes our lives better, it comes at a price.  The book is split into two parts.  The first part discusses where the idea of childhood came from.  To give you a brief history - children used to be believed to be demons because in the Bible it says we are all born sinful and therefore children did not matter all that much.  It was when children began to be viewed as innocent beings when born that childhood came about.  Childhood is not something that is just apart of life.  Sure it is apart of our lifestyle today but childhood is technically an idea, not a state of our lives.  At one point in time, there was no big difference between children and adults.  Children were not excluded from certain information like they are today such as swearing, sexuality, and death.
The second part of the book then discusses why childhood has disappeared.  As I stated above, Postman's main argument is that technology is a huge reason for removing the idea of childhood from our minds.  He backs up his argument by saying that technology is the bridge between children and adults.  What was once hidden from children in childhood is now easily accessible to them through television and now, the internet.  TV is something that anyone can watch no matter what age or background.  An image is an image.  While books have their own reading levels depending on a person's knowledge of the English language, TV does not have levels.  An image is universal while ideas, specifically from books, are not. Therefore, a child can watch a sex scene on Game of Thrones when their parents aren't home and then when their parents watch it, they will be seeing the same image.  How they interpret that image is of course based off of their knowledge and experiences and cultural background.
Apart from listening to this book (the fact that I listened to the book while not affect the rating I will give but still...), the other thing I took issue with was that while Postman makes an excellent point, I think there is a lot more at work here than just technology.  Of course technology is the biggest issue but my concern is that, what is it that children are now watching and experiencing through technology that is making childhood disappear?  Obviously this book was written over 20 years ago when there was no Jersey Shore or Breaking Amish or the Bachelor but I am curious as to what are the effects of certain television programs on children and adults alike?  In 1991 when this book was first published, was a show like Seinfeld or Cheers at work on kids the way 16 and Pregnant is at work?  What about a movie like Titanic compared to a movie like The Hangover?  I would love to read a book about how pop culture is changing childhood.
I really enjoyed this book.  After taking a classes such as "Childhood and War Studies" and "Democracy and Education" and reading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, this book has only pushed my learning on the subject further and I hope it won't end here.  I am also certain that this will not be the last Neil Postman book I read.  I look forward to the rest of his books!  I will give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment