George Orwell's novel 1984 describes a state where the leaders demand absolute obedience. The government lies to its citizens and monitors every aspect of their lives. The novel became a famous example of totalitarianism, or a government permitting no individual freedom. Postman uses 1984 as an example of a future Americans have learned to fear, particularly because of its resemblance to 20th-century totalitarian governments in Germany and the Soviet Union. He argues the predictions of 1984 are unlikely to come true in the United States.
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in part as a warning against overreliance on technology. Citizens in the novel worship industrialist Henry Ford. Because they're so easily entranced by technological devices, they have forgotten how to think for themselves. They surrender control without realizing it. Postman uses Brave New World as an example of a dystopian vision that may come true in the United States. He believes television resembles the futuristic technologies in Huxley's novel—devices designed to distract, amuse, and erase critical thinking.
Postman incorporates Marshall McLuhan's ideas throughout his work, particularly as a starting point for Chapter 1. In this chapter, Postman agrees with McLuhan that communication systems reveal deep truths about a culture. But Postman adapts "the medium is the message" to describe media as a metaphor—a symbolic suggestion of something greater than what it is. In Chapter 10 Postman recommends readers consult McLuhan for a fuller understanding of how electronics impact communication.
Like Karl Marx, Postman is interested in how societies progress from one state to another. At the end of Chapter 4, Postman refers to Marx's belief that epic poems could never come from print-based civilizations. Postman agrees with Marx's belief that the new form of print made the old content of epic poetry disappear, as epics are typically spoken or sung before they're written down. Marxist thought also comes into play in Chapter 11. Postman thinks many Americans share the Marxist belief that culture is constantly advancing because of changing forces in the material, physical world. Americans believe new technology leads to positive progress, a view Postman considers Marxist.