05 August 2012

Pondering things technological

When I was a very young teacher in training, I was strongly influenced by the work of the Canadian Marshall McLuhan and by Neil Postman’s book Teaching as a subversive activity. I’ve been prompted to buy Postman’s book again. This time, it will be delivered instantaneously to my e-book reader, which is perhaps ironic, given Postman’s warnings that contemporary mass communications media make it impossible to share serious ideas.


Postman died in 2003, and while much of his work has a slightly old-fashioned tone because of his focus on television, his message is highly relevant. For example, Postman concluded a presentation he delivered in 1998 with these words:

"And so, these are my five ideas about technological change. First, that we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price. Second, that there are always winners and losers, and that the winners always try to persuade the losers that they are really winners. Third, that there is embedded in every great technology an epistemological, political or social prejudice. Sometimes that bias is greatly to our advantage. Sometimes it is not. The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life. And so on. Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological, which means, it changes everything and is, therefore, too important to be left entirely in the hands of Bill Gates. And fifth, technology tends to become mythic; that is, perceived as part of the natural order of things, and therefore tends to control more of our lives than is good for us.

If we had more time, I could supply some additional important things about technological change but I will stand by these for the moment, and will close with this thought. In the past, we experienced technological change in the manner of sleep-walkers. Our unspoken slogan has been “technology ├╝ber alles,” and we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it."
The full text is available at Wikiversity: http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Neil_Postman:_Five_Things_We_Need_to_Know_About_Technological_Change. It's only a few pages long ... you could read it in your coffee break. It might give you as much to ponder as it did me.