Technopoly By Postman Essay, Research Paper
Neil Postman takes a pessimistic view of technology and its future in his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Upon first reading of the title, I was prepared for yet another example of meaningless technology bashing. Context-free sentiments such as ?Kill your TV? seem to flow unimpeded from every angle, especially from university faculty/writers. While Postman?s delivery is certainly not the Kaopectate required for this problem, it does attempt to provide context and explanation for why society must keep at least one eye open when accepting new technologies. The main point of this book is that society is becoming much too dependent on new technologies. Consequently, Postman argues, technological development has reached a plateau previously reserved for such cornerstones of truth like God and ideals of morality. We have become slaves to our inventions. This is the definition of a technopoly. Postman thoroughly points out all of the negative consequences and implications of this. The quantification of everything, loss of moral authorities, and the devaluation of meaningful symbols are just a sample of the many problems that Postman attributes to the rise of technology. The one important aspect left out in this book is something that Postman claims to be important in his preface:
We may learn from this that it is a mistake to suppose that any technological
innovation has a one-sided effect. Every technology is both a burden and a
blessing, not either or, but this and that. (Postman, 5)
I realize that it is important to have a dissenting voice in a predominantly pro-technology society. However, to argue an issue in need of a cost-benefit analysis by only presenting costs and negative aspects is silly and misleading. The tone of Technopoly is consequently a little paranoid, and at times leads to premature conclusions.
The first part of this book begins by dividing cultures into three groups. Tool using cultures did have inventions, but these inventions ?did not attack the dignity and integrity of the culture into which they were introduced? (Postman, 23). These cultures were all unified by some metaphysical theory that was rarely, if ever, disturbed by technology. Postman claims that the progression from this initial state to technocracy was facilitated by the ideas of Francis Bacon in the 17th century. Bacon is credited as being the first to see the connection between science and the improvement of the human condition. It is also at this point that ?resignation was cast out and God assigned to a special room. The name of the building was Progress and Power? (Postman, 36).
In 18th century technocratic capitalism took hold not only as a good idea, but as a reality that could not be reversed. Religion and tradition still existed at this point, although they were more threatened by technology than they had been previously. With the aggressive progress of new invention, technological and traditional world-views collide and produce the problem of a developing technopoly.
With the rise of Technopoly, one of those thought-worlds disappears. Technopoly
eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely the way Aldous Huxley outlined in
Brave New World. It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral.
It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore
irrelevant. And it does so by redefining what we mean by religion, by art, by
family, by politics, by history, by truth, by privacy, by intelligence, so that our
definitions fits its new requirements. Technopoly, in other words, is totalitarian
technocracy. (Postman, 48)
Postman speaks with a fanatic romanticism of the past when describing these world-views, but I?m still left with no understanding of what advantages of tool-using cultures held. Indeed, it is very hard to say what kind of advantages something has unless you have lived in both worlds. The reader is left with Postman?s biased personification of a technology that is dragging humanity straight to hell. Reading this section, I am reminded of my Grandfather?s holiday visits at which he spouts for hours about how much better the old days were without any comment on any of the improvements that have occurred in his lifetime. Postman?s argument is equally transparent because it lacks consideration of the improvements technology has brought. Is it a bargain we can make? Postman continues to look at the negative issues of this bargain in the next section.
The second part of the book outlines and gives examples of Postman?s main points. In ?The Improbable World? he states that information is essentially useless because there is so much of it out there. Any statement can be made believable if started with the words ?A study has shown that…? It is clear in the chapter entitled ?Scientism? how social science has exploited this fact to the point of becoming a new world religion. Science has simply become a misused catch phrase used for anything that needs validity. Postman gives the reasons for why this continual information glut can not be stopped in the following chapter, ?The Broken Defenses?. He says that school, religion, and family are no longer effective defenses against the excess of bad information and that they cannot be expected to fill that role anytime in the future. I agree with his argument that there is a lot of useless information in the world. This useless information is used to spread a significant amount of nonsense to a very gullible nation. If you need an example of this, read the chapter entitled ?The Ideology of Machines: Medical Technology? in this book. However, there is also a great deal of good information out there that would not have been available prior to the new technologies easing the spread of information. The evidence of this is easily seen. The average person knows a great deal more about the workings of judicial and political systems, the origins of man, and even the basic workings of the universe. This would not have been a reality without the free flow of information and new technologies. It is not entirely clear if Postman is advocating a return of information control steered by bureaucracy. He seems to mention it as a possible solution and then reject it. In any case, it is a bad idea for two reasons. First, it would never work in a nation so protective of its freedom of information. Secondly, it should be humanity?s job to adjust to technology. Not the other way around. The big problem with personifying technology is that society assumes that if we play our cards right, technology will fix the problems associated with it and work for us. The reality of it is: We need to take some responsibility. Why is society so gullible? It?s not because there is a lot of bad information out there. It is not even because the rise of Technopoly has made it possible to exploit gullibility to a ridiculous extent. It is because we have failed to prepare ourselves for the new world view that we associate with technology. This brings me to mention an almost redeeming quality for this book. Postman gets the answer right on when he says education is a solution to the problem. His suggestion of teaching semantics is something that should be considered as part of the curriculum for all schools.
It helps students to reflect on the sense and truth of what they are writing and
of what they are asked to read. It teaches them to discover the underlying
assumptions of what they are told. It emphasizes the manifold ways in which
language can distort reality. It assists students in becoming what Charles
Weingartner and I once called ?crap detectors?. (Postman, 195)
Certainly there are considerable problems associated with the technological thought world. However, to say that the problems are the only thing we should be looking at is wrong. It is also a mistake to say that the problems are unrecoverable. The movement of a society that values religion to one that looks to technology for truth may be a progression. It may be a digression. It really depends on who you ask and what values you assign to things lost and gained through the transition. Postman, our computer literate spokesman for the Stone Age, would argue that it is definitely a digression. However, that is a subjective opinion. It is not an opinion that I would want Postman to make for all of humanity.