Gore on Television

No picture, just words for this post.

In his opening remarks for the Science and Society Conference, former Vice President Al Gore spoke “off the record,” so I don’t know if I’m supposed to blog about it. So we’ll see if this gets me in trouble.

He spoke about climate change, of course, as well as the Republican “war on science” (although he didn’t use that phrase), although Gore saved his harshest words for television. His objections will sound familiar (the dumbing-down of news and such), but he offered an interesting argument for television’s addictive aspects, namely that it triggers our evolutionary responses to rapid movement in our visual field. Gore also blamed the problems (at least in part) on a transition to “symbolic, image-based communication versus word-based communication.“

Whoa! A rather strong statement from a guy with a movie that just came out on DVD.

I’m just going to ramble for a moment, here, but… The argument, I suppose, would go that television makes us dumber, basically (or as I prefer to say it, television sucks out your brain), which probably has something to do with the fact that engages less cerebral parts of your brain. Perhaps we’re more easily victimized by a technology that communicates directly with the reptile brain in our heads rather than engaging the more abstract language centers we utilize when we read The New York Times or The National Enquirer.

Can’t say I’m inclined to argue much, but of course, there’s unquestionably a place for the medium—the problem is that it has become the dominant means for people (well, Americans at least) to learn about the world.

I was delighted to catch all Gore’s references to Walter Ong’s ideas about transitions in communication technology causing cultural shifts and spurring the advancement of science. I’ve been a fan of Orality and Literacy for some time, and I enjoyed hearing his ideas strung together so fluidly by Gore. And the references ranged much more widely than Ong—history, science, and philosophy all strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage, and I, personally, left thrilled and depressed, thinking how great it would be to have a president who could weave such a narrative.


As Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, put it at the end of the conference, where was that Al Gore back in 2000?