Neil Postman, “Media as Epistemology” (Page 17)
“Epistemology is a complex and usually opaque subject concerned with the origins and nature of knowledge. The part of its subject matter that is relevant here is the interest it takes in definitions of truth and the sources from which such definitions come. In particular, I want to show that definitions of truth are derived, at least in part, from character of the media of communication through which information is conveyed. I want to discuss how media are implicated in our epistemologies.”
Literally: Epistemology is the knowledge that belongs to a society or culture. What I believe this passage is saying, is that truth can be derived from various sources where epistemology is concerned. Ways of communication such as writing, oral traditions, television, newspapers and other kinds of media, all have different approaches on how they display information and how their audiences will interpret that information as truth. Different sources of media that spread information are not always received with the same seriousness as some of their counterparts. Television, for example, is not treated with the same seriousness, or given the same credibility as written texts.
Intellectually: This passage makes me think about the society we live in today. We live in a world where people are constantly searching for validation and instant gratification. As Postman stated in his essay, “From Technocracy to Technopoly” when he referred to Frederick W. Taylor, human beings have started to show skepticism in their fellow man, and putting most of their trust in technology. This is somewhat similar to what Postman described in this essay, except he’s describing the many sources of information and what and how people decide to put their trust into the information, depending on the outlet.
Emotionally: To be perfectly honest, I feel a bit torn on this subject matter. On the one hand, human beings were created in such a complex and intricate way, that I feel we are capable of anything. We are filled with emotions, extreme thought-processing and amazing intellect. We were blessed with the ability to love one another and share unbreakable bonds. This is where my feelings of being torn comes in. In a way I understand why people would be trusting of technology and not their fellow man, because as I described, we are complex beings. On the other side, this is the exact reason why people may put their full trust in technology, and more specifically, certain aspects of it in the media. Technology was created, perfectly, to do exactly what it was set out to do. There are no ulterior movies, nor are there complicated thought processes that goes into the computation. With that being said, I feel a bit saddened by this realization, but I also feel as though there should be a healthy balance of incorporating more humanized deals alongside technology.
Relationally: This passage fits into the overall message of the essay because I truly believe that it addresses the entirety of the point Postman is trying to convey. In the essay, he goes on to describe several ways that information is given, one being from the oral traditions of western Africa where spoken word was the law of the land, to to the Greeks who had a strong appreciation for people who spoke in public forums. The Greeks saw public speaking as “spoken writing.” According to the essay, “Though it always implied oral performance, its power to reveal the truth resided in the written word’s power to display arguments in an orderly progression.” People have a tendency to believe the written word over spoken word and even television, because they felt as though writing required a lot of thought, whereas people speaking may casually say something that isn’t relevant to a topic, thus leading the audience to take their words and intentions out of context. It was also said that written texts have a tendency to live on and even outlive oral traditions, which gives it credibility and allows it to stand as a source of reference.
Lewis Mumford, “The Automation of Knowledge” (Page 263)
“The scientific ideology that made possible these colossal benefits, we now find, cannot be easily attached to other valid and purposeful human ends. In order to enjoy all these abundant goods, one must strictly conform to the dominant system, faithfully consuming all that it produces, meekly accepting its quantitative scale of values, never once demanding the most essential of all human goods, an ever more meaningful life, for that is precisely what automation, by its very nature and on its own strict premises, is utterly impotent to produce.”
Literally: This passage is describing how automation was created to “allegedly” give us human beings a more meaningful and and purposeful life. It also describes the benefits of automation as “colossal”, however it goes on to address the downside of our acceptance of it. In order for us to fully enjoy the perks of automation, we must submit, basically, to the demands of it. We must assimilate and abandon the very thing that makes us human, which is complex thought and fellowship. Mumford believes that we do not stand up to automation and we need take back our lives, the very lives that automation “promised” to improve and enhance.
Intellectually: There is a sense of familiarity in what Mumford is explaining in this essay. In reference to the modern society, I do agree with what he said. Due to the abundance of technology, I think that the quality of human life has depleted significantly. We lead a more sedentary lifestyle where people do not take the time to live in the moment, nor do they acknowledge the world around them. We are more focused on instant gratification and ways we can take advantage of an opportunity, as an opposed to appreciating the steps we have to take to get there. On page 265, there was a passage that stated, “Machines were taking on more of the attributes of living organisms”, and also “Man, on the other hand, was adapting himself, with absurd docility, to the limitations of the machine. In short, the man and the machine were merely exchanging roles.” It’s almost as though man are striving for excellence, perfection and to be correct all the time, when it was machines that were created for this exact same thing.
Emotionally: As I stated before in regards to Postman’s essay, coming to the realization of a lot of the things these men stated in their essays, I get a feeling of sadness. Human beings are very complex creatures and bound for greatness, but are slowly but surely becoming dependent on the very thing they created. As Mumford stated, machines and man are exchanging roles, and it’s only a matter of time, before man is forced to keep up with, or at least reach the same level of perfection and correctness as the machines they created. We are now striving to get back our lives and even find a way to struggle with that. Qualities that are innate are disappearing and it seems as though the only way to get them back, is to break down automation while focusing on the rebuilding of the human race.
Relationally: I would like to refer to another passage in Mumford’s essay that explains why this passage fits into the overall essay. On page 273, Mumford says, “Unless you have the power to stop an automatic process, you had better not start it. To spare ourselves humiliation over our failure to control automation, we now pretend that the automaton’s purpose is our own.” The central focus, I believe, is Mumford alerting people to the ever-growing influence technology has on mankind, and not necessarily in a good way. Society is basically moving backwards, where machines once depended on the intellect of man and currently, man is depending on machine to guide him through life. We are becoming empty shells filled with information pumped from automatons, which at one point, we pumped into them.
Donald Murray, “Internal Revision” (Pages 76-77)
“My main concern in this chapter is revision. But to be able to understand what I consider the most important task in the revision process, we have to appreciate the fact that writers much of the time don’t know what they are going to write or even possibly what they have written. Writers use language as a tool of exploration to see beyond what they know.”
Literally: I believe the passage is stating that revision shouldn’t be looked upon as a failure (Murray says this on page 75), or that the writer is incompetent, but an endless journey to learning, discovery, and information. He says that writers use that experience to explore beyond what is physically written on their paper, or whatever tools/methods they use to write. Revision basically gives a writer endless opportunities to convey their message, or the central idea of their texts in numerous ways. There is no right or wrong way to convey as message, especially since audiences tend to grasp and interpret information differently.
Intellectually: This passage makes me think about when I started taking words seriously. As Murray said, most people get away with just submitting their first-draft copies, and are never even introduced to, or think of doing a complete revision of their work. I have written several free-form writing pieces, and often immediately give them to a friend or associate to review. During my own “internal revision”, everything seems perfect and exactly the way I wanted it to be, but an associate (external revision) may find several different ways for me to convey my central idea in a way that they would understand. I truly feel as though delivery may not be as important, as long as the general concept is grasped. It’s like ordering a pizza. Whether it was delivered in a truck, helicopter or boat, as long as it’s exactly what you ordered (the writer’s intention), then the method of delivery should not matter.
Emotionally: I felt comforted while reading this passage. As a person who wants to pursue writing as a part of their livelihood, it’s a great feeling when you’re reminded that it’s okay to revise and discover new ideas and methods you may not have seen before. It definitely boosts your confidence levels when you understand that there are several ways to get a point across. Just because you discovered one of the many ways, doesn’t make you a failure. Murray even stated that his students are often pleased to know how long it takes him to finish a writing. I am content with that piece of information.
Relationally: This passage relates to the overall message of the essay because I strongly believe that this was Murray’s main point. Revision is the most important area to focus on when striving to be a good writer. Most writers, at first glance, are not really concerned about the science behind or the technicalities of their writings, but the message and if the message is clear enough to them and possibly from the viewpoint of their audience. He looks at revision as if it’s research, an opportunity to learn and discovery just as the passage says. He admits that he doesn’t always know everything, doesn’t always know what to write and doesn’t always remember everything, but what he does know is that revision is an eternal learning process granting writers and readers the opportunity to discover all aspects of literature.