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The lost art of typography

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The lost art of typography

By: John DeRosa

E-mail: Joanna.Karbowska@Worldnet.Att.Net

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business was published in 1985. The theories and concepts described in the book could easily apply to today's world. Postman goes to great detail in his book about the development of public discourse (verbal and written communication) over the centuries. He explains how the development and evolution of communication over mankind's history has changed at critical points. These critical points include the development of the alphabet, the development of the printing press, the development of the telegraph and the development of the television. Postman argues that American society in particular is in danger since it relies so much on television. Postman's book is divided into two parts. Part one documents the development of communication in Western civilization. The main course of his documentation is that the oral and printed methods of communication tend to be held in higher prestige because they take more "brain power" to learn and perfect. If a person wants to learn in an oral or printed communication based culture, he or she must learn the language, memorize customs, learn to read, learn to write, etc. Postman even goes so far to say that print communication controls your physical body as well -- that a person's body must remain at least semi-mobile in order to pay attention to what the words are trying to say. In chapter 4, Postman details how the development and success of the printed word in Western civilization created what he calls "The Typographic Mind", a mind set where a person from the 17th, 18th or 19th centuries could endure and pay attention to lengthy written tomes or lengthy speeches. Postman cites the 1858 U.S. presidential debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. One debate lasted three hours while another in 1854 went seven. When I read this, I admit I was amazed. I had known that the debates were important for many reasons, but I had no idea that they had lasted this long. I can honestly say that I don't think I could have lasted that long myself. The point that Postman is trying to make here however is that with mass electronic communication in the 20th century (television), American attention spans would never last even a fraction of that amount of time. Think of political debates on television today. To begin with the entire debate itself lasts only an hour at most. This includes commercial breaks. Candidates normally get five minutes to speak on an issue (sometimes only three) and the rebuttals are usually only just as long. So many of the recent televised presidential debates are successful if a candidate comes up with a great sound bite. Persons can cite the Lloyd Bentsen - Dan Quayle debate of 1992 for evidence of that. Postman argues that there is an inherent danger in this. With important topics such as politics, religion and education being pared down to 15 second sound bites on the evening news, Americans do not get the whole picture. Many critical issues and concerns are left out and trivialized at times. Part two of Postman's book goes more into current examples of his theories. One chapter discusses how television mixes with religion, while another goes into more detail about politics and television ...

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Keywords: the lost artwork of hollywood, the lost art of storytelling

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