With a hat tip to my friend Alix Howard, news that a hostage taker in Pittsburgh has been “live-blogging” his own evolving situation has crossed my desk. My first thought was that we’re seeing a 2012 version of Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino, but the media ecology thought that immediately came behind the pop culture reference was this Neil Postman quote from 1974:
I might add here, in case you are interested, that in the competition among media for people’s attention, the telephone wins hands down in just about every context . We even have testimony to the fact that the act of love can be terminated instantly by the ring of a telephone. In Media Ecology, we call this telephonis interruptis. Less serious but equally revealing is the fact that on two occasions in the past year, bank robbers in the actual process of being surrounded by police took time out to answer phone calls placed by curious reporters . One of the bank robbers actually said, ‘Could you call back later . I’m busy now.’
Our hostage-taker is just following the rules of the dominant cultural practices as shaped by the communication environment of the 21st century. I’d be curious to know how compelled he feels about updating his status during the ordeal.