Postman says the phrase for which this chapter is titled should perhaps be considered one of the most troubling in the English language. “Now…this” is often used as a transition between subjects on radio or television broadcasts. Postman says it indicates that what you have just heard has no consequence, and what you are about to hear has no context. Television, however, did not invent what Postman calls the “Now…this” worldview.—Postman hopes to have shown that it has its roots in telegraphy and photography. But television is responsible for putting the “now…this” worldview into its “boldest and most embarrassing form.”
Postman takes a phrase that would have been universally recognizable to his audience and performs a kind of “close reading” of it, using it to try and prove the total disregard for context and consequence that has pervaded culture since the rise of television. Not only is television culture different in fundamental ways from print culture, but it is also, in Postman’s view, unequivocally worse.
Postman says we live in an age where the most trusted news reporters are the most attractive or well-styled ones. Credibility, he says, has replaced reality as the criteria for truth. If information comes from a credible person, it is accepted as true. (It used to be the case that if information reflected reality, it was accepted as true.)
Postman also opines that credibility, as a very concept, is an artifact of television culture. In Postman’s account, people used to make decisions about the truth or falsehood of information solely on the basis of the information itself, paying little attention to the source of the information. This is quite a bold claim, however, and Postman doesn’t back it up with any examples.
“The result of all this,” Postman says, “is that Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.” Postman says that America is a place of “disinformation.” This doesn’t mean incorrect information, but rather information that doesn’t actually serve to inform—it is too disjointed and decontextualized to do so.
“Disinformation” is the content of entertainment culture. It is not bad because it is incorrect or misleading—it is bad because it doesn’t actually contribute to our knowledge and intelligence, but it tricks us into thinking that it does.
“For all his perspicacity, George Orwell would have been stymied by this situation; there is nothing ‘Orwellian’ about it,” Postman says. Huxley, on the other hand, would not be surprised in the least at the current state of affairs in America. The information environment in the US looks to Postman like a game of Trivial Pursuit. Postman says it is uncertain if a nation can survive on 22-minute spurts of information—if it considers the news valuable only when it produces laughs or applause.
Once again turning to dystopian fictions, Postman here wonders gravely about the health and survival of his nation if things continue on as they are. Postman doesn’t elaborate on what it means for a nation to “survive,” but his tone clearly conveys his worry about America degrading into something unrecognizable. As readers living in his hypothetical future, then, it is up to us to decide how correct Postman might have been in his arguments and predictions.