I’ve always found it intriguing that the word amuse comes from the root word muser which means “to ponder” coupled with the prefix a- which means “without.” So to a-muse would be to do something without deep thought. The definition is given as “to divert from serious business” but through the 18th century the primary meaning was “to deceive or cheat” as by occupying the person’s attention with something else while you stole their purse. (I’ve seen some Arab street kids who were quite expert at this.)
So anyway, the title of this book seemed to me particularly apt: Amusing Ourselves to Death. Indeed, while we sit raptly in front of a screen, what is being stolen from under our very noses? (Just for one example, how many families still play board games or cards together? Anything else you can think of?)
The amazing thing to me is that television is actually structured so that it is not easily remembered. The editor of a news show made the statement that the idea is to “keep everything brief, not to strain the attention of anyone, but instead to provide constant stimulation through variety, novelty, action, and movement. You are required to pay attention to no concept, no character, and no problem for more than a few seconds at a time.”
A study showed that the average TV viewer could retain only 20% of the information in a fictional televised news story, and 21% of viewers could not recall any news items an hour later. Things that one learns from television tend to be more segmented and will not usually be tied into a person’s stored knowledge as readily as things that are read. In other words, television does not teach high-level thinking nearly as well as reading.
So TV definitely does fit the definition of “amusement.” Even the things which we think we can’t live without–the news–are designed to be forgotten quickly rather than pondered. Interesting, hmmmm?