I am a big fan of writer Neil Postman — especially Teaching as a Subversive Activity and Amusing Ourselves To Death, which I put at the very top of the recommended reading in Keep Going — so it was a delight to come across his general life advice compiled by his former student and colleague, Janet Sternberg, who worked closely with Postman over the years.
A prolific writer, Postman authored numerous books, essays, articles, and speeches. Yet he never formalized in writing certain material that he presented in classes he taught at New York University in the Media Ecology Program. Almost every year, Postman ritually delivered several lectures, among them an enduring favorite which became known as his lecture on “How to Live the Rest of Your Life.” In his own personal notes, Postman titled this material simply his “Final Lecture,” describing it as “a lecture based on the supposition that American culture is in the process of decomposition. Technology has attacked all social institutions and although we may yet revive the culture, the problem to be solved is, how to survive until that happens.”
I don’t agree with all of it, but I’ve cut and pasted some of my favorites below:
2. Do not watch TV news shows or read any tabloid newspapers.
3. Do not read any books by people who think of themselves as “futurists”
7. Establish as many regular routines as possible.
11. “As a general rule, do not take in any more information after seven or eight o’clock at night.”
12. “Work, friends, and family are the areas where what you think and do matters.”
14. With exceptions to be noted further ahead, avoid whenever possible reading anything written after 1900.
16. Weingartner’s Law: 95% of everything is nonsense.
18. Take religion more seriously than you have.
19. Divest yourself of your belief in the magical powers of numbers.
20. “You should distrust writers that English professors favor… read good writers despised by English professors.”
21. Patriotism is a squalid emotion.
22. New is rotten, big is rotten, and fast is rotten.
If you want to get a feel for Postman’s voice and delivery, I recommend this 1997 lecture, “The Surrender of Culture to Technology,” which includes his 7 questions for a new technology:
1. What is the problem to which technology claims to be a solution?
2. Whose problem is it?
3. What new problems will be created because of solving an old one?
4. Which people and institutions will be most harmed?
5. What changes in language are being promoted?
6. What shifts in economic and political power are likely to result?
7. What alternative media might be made from a technology?
Of course, the best way to get to know a new writer is through their books!