Borrowing from Marshall McLuhan, Communication Arts professor Neil Postman adopts the thesis that the 'medium is the metaphor' by arguing that "each medium, like language itself, makes possible a unique mode of discourse by providing a new orientation for thought, expression, and sensibility" (10). McLuhan argued that the medium is the message; Postman carries it one step further by demonstrating that the 'medium is the metaphor." He illustrates this by showing how the Cherokee Indians would communicate to multiple peoples separated by distance via smoke signals. While not knowing the nature of the discourse, Postman draws the inference that it probably did not contain philosophical argumentation because you cannot use smoke to do philosophy. The metaphor's form excludes the content (7). Postman illustrates this in the negative using the second commandment: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, any likeness of any thing in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth. Wondering why God would make such a decree, Postman infers, "it is a strange injunction [second commandment] to include in part of one's ethical system unless its author assume a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture" (9, emphasis his).
This book is more relavant today than when it was first written. I live in a dorm and see people wasting their brains on video games (which I deem more dangerous than television). By the way, and I do not know how many reviewers caught this, Postman is not categorically bashing television. He notes how this has been a blessing in the lives of the elderly and the infirm. I thought this was a master stroke of sympathy and I commend him for it.