The good, the bad, and the technology*

Posted on February 4, 2009

If I were tasked with the chore of educating an alien race about earth's culture, it's pretty obvious how I would start. I would create an online slide show of the 2009 Super Bowl commercials. After all, what better way is there to show a foreign species how humankind has evolved into tech-hungry, commercialized beings? From finding a job using multiple websites to online car and airline flight shopping to graphically enhancing advertisements in general, it's apparent that society is enamored with any imaginable amount of technology. Well, at least, that's what the marketing industry want us to believe.

"Technology, as we have seen, promises to bring the forces of nature and culture under control, to liberate us from misery and toil, and to enrich our lives." Thank you, Albert Borgman, from "Technology and the character of contemporary life." I couldn't have said it any better. The key word in the quoted line, of course, is "promises," and it's fairly safe to say that anyone who thinks this about technology must have never set foot out of the house, computer lab, or Circuit City (whoops!). Few people would argue the importance of some scientific advancement of knowledge, like fire or the wheel, although even hard-core critical theorists seem to think that the simplest tools hinder proper development of mankind. I can see where they are coming from with something like the George Foreman Grill, but the wheel?

In the book "Technopoly," Neil Postman argues that technological change is ecological, and not necessarily good or bad as a whole (p. 18). He also claims that even the printing press and books have altered society from the standpoint of making learning more individualized, compared to oral traditions and the stress of group learning (p. 17). My simple question to Postman is this: Have you ever read a book and purposely never discussed with anyone else? In normal practice, does an author write a novel, poem, etc., for himself only? I wonder how Postman would feel if no one read his books, and no one wanted to discuss his books, based solely on the notion that the medium is the message, and therefore, it is not worth perpetuating. How can he talk about the degradation of society with Johannes Gutenberg and the press while profiting off of writing? Maybe he's just frustrated that someone didn't pick up the tab for his Super Bowl commercial involving dancing lizards and Cheetos.

I will rightly agree with Postman that, in general, an overload of new technology can detrimentally affect a person, a group, and a civilization. However, that does not mean that all scientific advancements spell doom for all kingdoms. Sure, tools sometimes do have an abnormally high power rating, and can consume an individual. But this is not the case for everyone, especially those familiar with various tools and those with the wherewithal on how to use them. Oftentimes, those people who are the biggest opponents to technology are those who do not understand it. While I want to assume that Postman and other anti-Technophilies do comprehend the good side of increased capacities of knowledge, they should at least not downplay the magnificent evolutions that have come about due to human ingenuity.

Comments

Erin

Interesting what you said about Postman's view on technology and the printing press being a technology that he has benefited from. He also has a website, though it may have been created after his death in 2003.
www.neilpostman.org

Also, do you think that the ways in which Postman and others describe the way technology can be negative to a society because it can be an overload for some, could be turned around to be a negative for those who chose not to partake in using particular technologies or at least are well behind the times?

Sun, 02/08/2009 - 10:16 Permalink
bwoods

Erin,

I tend to agree, from my experience, that the individuals who seem to have the most problems with technological advancements are the ones who are afraid they cannot keep up. It's similar to your blog posting about the teachers and using Moodle. When I used to work in the newspaper business, many people were scared that the "computers would take over." At one particular paper in a small city, management thought they should charge for any type of online news content. They made this decision in 2002, and it still haunts them today. Not only do they not understand the Internet in general, they are unwilling to even attempt to understand it, which can be a problem in pretty much any walk of life.

Wed, 02/11/2009 - 21:56 Permalink