Key takeaways


  • Hungry. That was the word that hooked me. That’s how my brain felt to me, too. Hungry. Needy. Itchy. Once it wanted information. But then it was distraction. And then, with social media, validation. A drumbeat of: You exist. You are seen.
  • McLuhan’s view is that mediums matter more than content; it’s the common rules that govern all creation and consumption across a medium that change people and society. Oral culture teaches us to think one way, written culture another. Television turned everything into entertainment and social media taught us to think with the crowd.
  • In his prophetic 1985 book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Postman argued that the dystopia we must fear is not the totalitarianism of George Orwell’s “1984” but the narcotized somnolence of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”
  • It was in that genre that Donald Trump perfected the persona of a ruthlessly effective executive with a particular talent for hiring and firing. Without “The Apprentice,” would there be a Trump presidency? And this is not just an American phenomenon: Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, secured his job by playing an Everyman who becomes president of Ukraine on a sitcom. His political party carried the same name as his show: Servant of the People. And his talents proved to be exactly what Ukraine would need when Russia invaded: He has played the part of the reluctant wartime leader perfectly, and his performance rallied what might have been an indifferent West to Ukraine’s side.
  • As the example of Zelensky suggests, the point is not that entertainers are bad leaders. It’s that we have come to see through television, to see as if we are televisions, and that has changed both us and the world.
  • I’ve also learned that patterns of attention — what we choose to notice and what we do not — are how we render reality for ourselves, and thus have a direct bearing on what we feel is possible at any given time. These aspects, taken together, suggest to me the revolutionary potential of taking back our attention.