Neil Postman

Neil Postman
Born (1931-03-08)March 8, 1931
New York City, U.S.
Died October 5, 2003(2003-10-05) (aged 72)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation Writer, professor
Spouse(s) Shelley Ross

Neil Postman (March 8, 1931 – October 5, 2003) was an American author, educator, media theorist and cultural critic, who is best known for his seventeen books, including Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Conscientious Objections (1988), Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992), The Disappearance of Childhood (1994) and The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (1995).

For more than forty years, he was associated with New York University. Postman was a humanist, who believed that "new technology can never substitute for human values". He died in 2003 of lung cancer.


Postman was born in New York City, where he would spend most of his life.[1] In 1953, he graduated from State University of New York at Fredonia where he played basketball.[1][2] At Teachers College, Columbia University he was awarded a master's degree in 1955 and an Ed.D (Doctor of Education) degree in 1958.[2] In 1959, he began teaching at New York University (NYU).[2]

In 1971, at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education (originally known as SEHNAP, School of Education, Health, Nursing, and Arts Professions), he founded a graduate program in media ecology.[2] He became the School of Education's only University Professor in 1993,[2] and was chairman of the Department of Culture and Communication until 2002.

He died of lung cancer in Flushing, Queens, on October 5, 2003.[2]


Postman wrote 18 books and more than 200 magazine and newspaper articles for such periodicals as The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's Magazine, Time, The Saturday Review, The Harvard Education Review, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Stern, and Le Monde. He was the editor of the quarterly journal ETC: A Review of General Semantics from 1976 to 1986. He was also on the editorial board of The Nation. Despite his oft-quoted concerns about television, computers and the role of technology in society, Postman used not only books, but also the medium of television to advance his ideas. He sat for numerous television interviews, and in 1976 taught a course for NYU credit on CBS-TV's Sunrise Semester called "Communication: the Invisible Environment".[3]


In his 1992 book Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, Postman defines "Technopoly" as a society which believes "the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment ... and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts." [4]

Postman argues that the United States is the only country to have developed into a technopoly. He claims that the U.S. has been inundated with technophiles who do not see the downside of technology. This is dangerous because technophiles want more technology and thus more information.[5] However, according to Postman, it is impossible for a technological innovation to have only a one-sided effect. With the ever-increasing amount of information available, Postman argues that: "Information has become a form of garbage, not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems."[6]

In a 1996 interview, Postman re-emphasized his solution for technopoly, which was to give students an education in the history, social effects and psychological biases of technology, so they may become adults who "use technology rather than being used by it".[7]

Postman was accused of Luddism, despite his statement in the conclusion of Amusing Ourselves to Death that "We must...not delude ourselves with preposterous notions such as the straight Luddite position..."[8]

On education

In 1969 and 1970 Postman collaborated with New Rochelle educator Alan Shapiro on the development of a model school based on the principles expressed in Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The result was the "Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study" within New Rochelle High School.[9] This "open school" experiment survived for 15 years, and in subsequent years many programs following these principles were developed in American high schools, current survivors include Walter Koral's Language class at the Village School[10] in Great Neck, New York.

In a television interview conducted in 1995 on the MacNeil/Lehrer Hour Postman spoke about his opposition to the use of personal computers in schools. He felt that school was a place to learn together as a cohesive group and that it should not be used for individualized learning. Postman also worried that the personal computer was going to take away from individuals socializing as citizens and human beings.[11]

Selected bibliography

  • Television and the Teaching of English (1961).
  • Linguistics: A Revolution in Teaching, with Charles Weingartner (Dell Publishing, 1966).
  • Teaching as a Subversive Activity, with Charles Weingartner (Delacorte Press, 1969)
  • "Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection" — speech given at National Convention for the Teachers of English (1969)[12]
  • The Soft Revolution: A Student Handbook For Turning Schools Around, with Charles Weingartner (Delacorte Press, 1971).
  • The School Book: For People Who Want to Know What All the Hollering is About, with Charles Weingartner (Delacorte Press, 1973).
  • Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk: How We Defeat Ourselves By the Way We Talk and What to Do About It (1976). Postman's introduction to general semantics.
  • Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979).
  • The Disappearance of Childhood (1982).
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985).
  • Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology and Education (1988).
  • How to Watch TV News, with Steve Powers (1992).
  • Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992).
  • The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (1995).
  • Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future (1999).
  • MacNeil, R. (Writer/Host).Visions of Cyberspace: With Charlene Hunter Gault (1995, July 25). Arlington, Virginia: MacNeil/Lerner Productions.


  1. 1 2 "A teacher's life: Remembering Neil Postman".
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Wolfgang Saxon: New York Times Obituary: Neil Postman, October 9, 2003
  3. "Sunrise Semester begins 13th Season". Lakeland Ledger. September 19, 1976. Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  4. (Postman, 1992. p.51)
  5. Howard P. Segal, "Review", The Journal of American History, vol.79, no.4 (March 1993), p.1695-1697
  6. Neil Postman, Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology, (1992), p.69
  7. PBS Newshour Interview, 1996
  8. Niel Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death,(2006), pg. 158, para. 3
  9. "3I Program: Proposal, 1970".
  10. Hu, Winnie (November 12, 2007). "Profile Rises at School Where Going Against the Grain Is the Norm". The New York Times. Retrieved April 6, 2010.
  11. From interview from PBS on MacNeil/Lehrer Hour (1995).
  12. In this speech, Postman encouraged teachers to help their students "distinguish useful talk from bullshit". He argued that it was the most important skill students could learn, and that teaching it would help students understand their own values and beliefs.
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