The modern world has become almost exclusively dependent on technology. Imagining one’s life without a mobile phone, for example, is practically impossible for most of the present-day citizens; in addition, with the advent of the internet, and the incredible availability of information, the power of technology has become obvious. Niel Postman, however, seems to take a dissenting perspective on this.
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Before going any further, it is important to elaborate some concepts in the context of their application by Postman and consequently, in this essay to abate any misconception that might arise in the reader.
The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary (2011), defines technology as the “scientific knowledge used in practical ways in industry, for example in designing new machines” Postman’s concept of technology in the context of the term’s use in his book is not different from this definition.
He proceeds to coin some technology related words such as, technopoly and technological, which he uses in his book. According to Postman, technopoly refers to a society whose most ardent belief is that “the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency …” (Postman, 1992. p.51). It then follows that technological is something that bears characteristics of the society described by Postman.
It is, however, important to note that society cannot be entirely constituted of people who tow the same line of thought and exhibit similar characteristics. This is why Postman talks of technology splitting society into technophiles; people who are enthusiastic about new technology and technophobes; people who are afraid of, dislike or avoid new technology.
These descriptions seem to set precedence for the author’s deliberations in the entire book. This essay will endeavor to outline Postman’s main contentions and critically examine them to depict how out of touch with reality they are.
Postman begins by stressing the fact that each invention has its positive aspects and downsides and therefore shows the split of society into technophiles and technophobes, as a pointless and dangerous process. He achieves this by the using the Legend of Thamus who as a king, had to determine which of the inventions made by his industrious subject, Theuth, were good for his kingdom.
Theuth thought that by discovering the art of writing, the king would be pleased but the king’s reaction was different. He saw writing as an art that would destroy the memories of its learners, as they would stop using their memories and want to refer to writing all the time. To king Thamus, the writing was not good at all. By using this analogy, Postman’s position on technology and invention is already betrayed.
He proceeds to elaborate the way in which tools shape peoples’ lives and the extent to which the tools can be opposed to technocracy. The bottom-line of his contention here is that people should not allow their lives to be manipulated by tools but they should the ones to use the tools to accomplish their desires.
Postman wraps up his deliberations by claiming that technopoly alters peoples’ vision of the world and of their own lives to the point, it gives them an illusion that they do not need wisdom anymore. Such a position seems extreme, as is the case with most other arguments propagated by Postman in this book.
This summary of his main arguments no doubt attests to this. However, concluding at this point without pointing out the shortcomings of Postman’s arguments may fall short of what this essay set out to achieve.
While his approach to technology sounds very reasonable at some points, it is still raised several questions. Postman has a point when claiming that technological innovations have not only changed people’s lives for the better but have also introduced a plethora of new problems. However, he seems to miss the point that what the developer of new technology has in mind when rolling it out.
The moral fabric has is much worn out but to imagine that one could spend so much of their time and resources to produce something deliberately aimed at causing problems is remote.
Much like pure knowledge, technological advances are not supposed simply to make people’s lives easier; they should also provide grounds for further researches and new discoveries, therefore, boosting the development of science (Adams & Hamm, 2013). Unless the latest developments were imperfect, scientists would have stopped trying to invent something new and, thus, the progress would have ceased.
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Postman’s claim that for the modern society the transformation from technocratic to technological is highly undesirable, yet practically unstoppable is uncalled for by any means. He depicts an individual who has come to appoint where he is fully aware that something with grave consequences is in the offing yet there is completely nothing he can do abate such consequences or the occurrence of such.
To assume such a position especially concerning technology paints Postman as one who finds it difficult to allow his books to be produced via this very technology. One is left wondering if he just loathes technology or he is technophobic.
Although he argues that the golden mean (desirable middle ground between two extremes) of treating the recent innovations must be found so that people will be able to use the recent technological innovations instead of letting the latter run their lives: “A bargain is struck in which technology giveth and technology taketh away” (Postman, 2011, 5).
He seems to be vouching for his position on technological advancement so that the rate of technological changes may be slowed down.
Postman tries to strengthen his contention by claiming that dependency on technology makes people stop striving for further development, yet the newest technological advances should be considered a big step in the right direction. Postman, by propagating such a line of thought, seems to insinuate that the developer and user of new technology have both stopped striving for further development regardless of the potential of the new technology.
Taking the first mobile phone that was rolled out into the market at the advent of mobile telephony as an example its features and abilities cannot compare to what is currently offered by Smartphone technology.
If this kind of contrast is extended to other areas in which technological advances are unrivaled, it will yield the same picture (Kurtz & Turpin, 1999). There is so much more that can be done today due to the technological advances that have been realized in the recent past but this is a fact that Postman seems to refute.
His argument on the ability of tools to dictate peoples’ lives if unchecked, needs a different focus or more clarity, since at present it is, for lack of a better word, rather vague.
Postman says, the key specifics of the so-called “tool society,” the specimens of which can be still found nowadays in some remote corners of the Earth, were the facts that the produced tools “did not attack (or, more precisely, were not intended to attack) the dignity and integrity of the culture into which they were introduced” (Postman, 2011, 23). He seems to be encouraging the present generation to put this into consideration when coming up with new technology.
It sounds like stepping on the gas pedal yet refusing to release the clutch or slightly releasing it but expecting the car to move at full throttle. The rates at which the populations are growing for instance and their demands, cannot allow technology to advance at the rates that are being encouraged by Postman. The pressure would be too much for the infrastructure and the amenities that such a rate can deliver to handle (Huttenegger, 2009).
In conclusion, it is evident that Postman attempts to paint a picture of society in a dilemma yet in a real sense, he is the creator and propagator of this dilemma. It is good to give credit where it is due because to a given extent, technology has played part in derailing the cultures of different groupings of people in different locations of the world alike (Feist, Chantal & Shukla, 2010).
However, taking an extreme stand such as that taken by Postman is uncalled for whatsoever. Technological advancement is a desirable process, which delivers more good than evil and it should be encouraged.
The world is surely far much better, in terms of what can be done within a given period than would the case some time back. People just need to uphold high morals in the application of new technology and efficiency would be achieved with minimal consequences.
Adams, D., & Hamm, M. (2013). Demystify math, science and technology: Creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Feist, R., Chantal, B., & Shukla, R. K. (2010). Technology and the changing face of humanity. Ottawa, Canada: University of Ottawa Press.
Huttenegger, G. (2009). Knowledge management and information technology. Berlin, Germany: GRIN Verlag.
Kurtz, R., & Turpin, E. (1999). Encyclopedia of violence, peace, and conflict. New York, NY: Academic Press.
Postman, N. (2011). Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology. New York City, NY: Vintage.
The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary. (2011). Technology. Web.