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“Future Shlock” by Neil Postman Essay

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Updated: Mar 11th, 2020


In 1988, author Neil Postman wrote an article known as “Future Shlock” in which he espoused that television is numbing America’s intelligence. He said that television, as a mode of technology, was trivializing public discourse, historical facts, and language, and this would jeopardize the culture. A lot of information is available today to prove that some aspects of intelligence are reducing; The National Endowment for the Arts conducted one such research, and thus affirms Postman’s findings.


Postman (8) warned that when a culture becomes preoccupied with irrelevancies, then the demands that the written word places on people’s attention will be too much for them. Sadly, this seems to be happening today; young people find reading to be too demanding, so they do not do it for pleasure anymore.

The NEA (33) found that, in the past two decades, reading patterns are dramatically reducing. In 1984, 17 year-olds who hardly every read represented 9% of the population, yet this percentage increased to 19% in the year 2004. These young people were referring to books that they read for fun.

Even proficiency levels have diminished; as proficient readers at the twelfth grade reduced from 40% to 35% between 1992 and 2005. Among college seniors, 28% of them spent less than an hour on reading while 35% read nothing at all in 2005 (NEA 9).

One may wonder whether reading habits have a direct implication on intelligence levels in the country. Postman (2) often cited instances of intelligence erosion using the absence of books. For instance, Germany’s propaganda Minister declared war on art criticism and burnt the books of some of the most intelligent writers in the world.

Scholars, thinkers, and innovators all rely on books as their medium of communication. Therefore, if a population refrains from reading, then it curves the path towards its demise. NEA (15) illustrates this point by showing how literacy correlates with school achievement. Frequent readers perform better in school than infrequent and hence unskillful readers. 12th graders who hardly ever read score 136/300 in writing.

Those who read daily score 165/300 in the same (NEA 15). Additionally, NEA (17) also demonstrates that efficient readers have higher paying jobs than basic readers. The former group often secures jobs in management positions within financial, professional and business sectors.

Postman (6) stated that “demands of entertainment take precedence over the rigors of learning” on television. Therefore, if people watch more television and read fewer books, then learning will diminish, and intellectual pursuits will weaken.

The NEA article demonstrates that television watching is one of the activities that replaced reading for pleasure. On average “15 to 24-year-olds spend two hours a day watching television and only dedicate 7-10 minutes to voluntary reading” (NEA 10). This indicates that television does indeed have an erosive effect on people’s intellectual pursuits.

Additionally, because the population is overly preoccupied with visual media, then these media often intrude on people’s ability to engage with written text. Almost 58% of all young people listen to music, watch television or send instant messages when reading. This severely hampers their ability to focus on book content. Television watching is eroding the country’s intelligence because it limits people’s ability to concentrate.

American culture is in danger because fewer people are participating in civic and cultural life. NEA (18) pointed out that readers are more inclined to participate in sports, attend a classical music concert or visit a museum than their less proficient counterparts.

They are also more likely to do charity work or volunteer in an activity. Proficient readers represent 84% of the voting population while 53% represent the less than average reader. Less television watching and more reading thus make people better citizens.


The wide menu of leisure activities, including television watching, has minimized America’s intellectual pursuits. Diminished reading levels illustrate this point and show that visual media are the cause. The country’s culture is under threat because fewer people will engage in charity work, cherish historical sites like museums, perform civic duties or find fulfillment at work if these patterns continue.

Works Cited

National Endowment for the Arts – NEA 2007, To read or not to read: A question of national consequence. PDF file. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. ‹http://www.nea.gov/research/ToRead_ExecSum.pdf›

Postman, Neil 1988, Future Shlock. PDF file. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. ‹›

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1. IvyPanda. ""Future Shlock" by Neil Postman." March 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/future-shlock-by-neil-postman/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. ""Future Shlock" by Neil Postman." March 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/future-shlock-by-neil-postman/.


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