At the heart of Postman’s argument is a claim about a relationship between the form of a medium (where “form” refers to the form the medium takes, e.g. television, spoken language, writing, etc.) and the content of that medium (where content is the information the medium communicates). Postman says that there is a determinate relationship between form and content. This means that the form of a media determines, or has a definitive impact on, its content. Certain kinds of media are suited for certain kinds of discourse, information, or communication. For example, Postman argues that television, as a form of media, is simply not suited for rational discussion or any kind of “serious” content. On the other hand, he believes typography (print and writing) is a form of media perfectly suited for rational content—but not necessarily entertaining content. Spoken language, its own medium separate from print, also determines its own special content: sayings, proverbs, or aphorisms are the dominant kinds of content in oral traditions, where information is communicated primarily by the spoken word.
Postman believes that this determinate relationship between form and content is of vital importance for people, especially Americans, to understand. He notes that too many Americans believe they can get out of television what they once got out of books or other kinds of print media. The implications for this claim are indeed large: if the form of a medium determines its content, then the introduction and dominance of new media, Postman extrapolates, brings with it the dominance of altogether new kinds of content. The difference between print culture and television culture is not simply the difference between writing and watching: it is the difference between a culture dominated by reason and a culture dominated by entertainment.
Form and Content ThemeTracker
Form and Content Quotes in Amusing Ourselves to Death
Our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.
Like the fish who survive a toxic river and the boatmen who sail on it, there still dwell among us those whose sense of things is largely influenced by older and clearer waters…
The use of language as a means of complex argument was an important, pleasurable and common form of discourse in almost every public arena…
The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography's definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence.
To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them…
At the end, one could only applaud those performances, which is what a good television program always aims to achieve; that is to say, applause, not reflection.
Had Irving Berlin changed one word in the title of his celebrated song [There’s No Business like Show Business], he would have been as prophetic, albeit more terse, as Aldous Huxley. He need only have written, There's No Business But Show Business.
The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products.
We now know that "Sesame Street" encourages children to love school only if school is like "Sesame Street."