Friday, November 25, 2016

Technopoly by Neil Postman

This is one of the hardest book reviews I've ever written. I had pages and pages of relevant quotes that I had to keep culling out. They were so helpful and so good that it hurt to cut them away.

Though not as readily accessible as Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman's Technopoly has a lot to add to the discussion of the surrender of culture to technology (the book's subtitle). I expected it to be dry, but found many nuggets of truth that kept me eagerly reading. I skimmed the chapters that were outdated, but those were very few because this book is more about the philosophy rather than the mechanics of technology.

Postman is not a Luddite who disdains all technological advances. But he wants us to be very careful to realize the difference they will make in our lives. "Their gifts are bountiful, but not without cost." He describes America as a Technopoly (the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology) because of our unquestioning acceptance of all technological advances.

We are currently surrounded with zealous prophets who see only what new technologies can do and are incapable of imagining what they will undo. (p. 5)

How did Technopoly find fertile ground on American soil? Postman gives four interrelated reasons. The American distrust of restraints (our "Anything is possible," can-do mentality), the exploitative genius of technological pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. (Morse, Rockefeller Alexander Graham bell, Edison, Ford, etc.), the successes of technology in providing Americans with convenience, comfort, speed, hygiene, and abundance. (Why question it?), and the devaluation of traditional beliefs brought on by a growing faith in science to solve problems. (p. 53-55)

We scoff at Luddites, but fail to see that they are calling us to re-evaluate how various technologies dehumanize us. Postman prefers to call those who abstain from adopting every new technology as "resistance fighters" and points out that their resistance is a thoughtful and careful rebellion in order to preserve that which really matters.

I've been quoting this book non-stop since finishing it three weeks ago. A very worthwhile read.

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