From Technocracy to Technopoly, by Neil Postman
“We had learned how to invent things, and the question of why we invent things receded in importance. The idea that if something could be done it should be done was born in the nineteenth century. And along with it, there developed a profound belief in all the principles through which invention succeeds: objectivity, efficiency, expertise, standardization, measurement, and progress.”(Page 42)
Literally: This passage is saying that since the concept of the invention found its way into society, people quickly flocked to it and began inventing technologies that were created with no particular meaning. Other than the fact that they felt if something could be enhanced or fixed, then it should be, the reasons behind the invention were often distant or not present at all. Perhaps people were taking advantage of the novelty in inventing things that could advance their communities. The passage also explains that technologies set the pace for the progression of society and what standards we may set along the way.
Intellectually: This passage makes me think about how far we’ve come in civilization and where we are presently. I’ve also thought about how differently we interact with our environments and the various ways we communicate with each other. The introduction of technologies has greatly benefited us, but there has also been a lot of harm. Many inventions have made us complacent and lazy, while other inventions may have helped us discover things about ourselves that we weren’t privy to, such as the capability to even be able to create in the first place. Technology has also made information easily accessible to us, while in return we may use that information to enhance our lives. Some may even use that information to harm others. I suppose it just depends on what side of the spectrum a person is on.
Emotionally: This passage makes me be nervous. The thought of technologies setting the tone for society is very unsettling. I say this because the standards that are being set may not necessarily be in agreement with a particular person’s lifestyle, and if that person objects, they will probably be socially and emotionally ousted from society. They may also be ridiculed, and called “archaic” for choosing not to concede and conform to the current ideologies.
Relationally: In my opinion, I found that this passage connected with Langdon Winner’s Do Artifacts Have Politics? On page 130 in the second paragraph, Winner discusses ways that technologies fit into society. The first way he explains is the fact that some technologies may require “the creation and maintenance of a particular set of social conditions as the operating environment of that system.” This reflects Postman’s idea that technologies may set the standard of operations within our communities and dictate how far we will progress as a civilization.
“The technology that emerged, fully armed, in nineteenth century America disdained such beliefs, because holy men and sin, grandmothers and families, regional loyalties and two-thousand-year-old traditions, are antagonistic to the technocratic way of life. They are a troublesome residue of a tool-using period, a source of criticism of technocracy.” (Page 46)
Literally: This passage is talking about the idea of morality, religion, and tradition in contrast to a growing technocratic society. As technology began to become pervasive, the concept of social traditions became a constant reminder of how much progress civilization has made, and how antiquated the beliefs that people were desperately trying to hold on to appeared. The passage even goes as far as calling these traditions “antagonistic” to technocracies and expresses that technology had disdain towards these ideologies because they are “residue of a tool-using period.”
Intellectually: This passage makes me think about the divisiveness within various cultures. If society must progress, why can’t there be an inclusion of traditional values and modern technology? I understand that there already is, but why can’t they successfully co-exist without the judgement and the ridicule? It’s almost as though you have to be for it (modern technology) or you’re against it if you choose to do things “the old school way.” There shouldn’t even be a choice. If the traditional way of living works for a person or a group of people then they should not be forced or hated for their choices. If a person or a group of people choose to be “progressive”, then they should also be free to do so without others struggling to hold on to traditions and force-feeding it to those who may choose to move forward.
Emotionally: I feel conflicted about this ideology. I feel this way because even though some people may find themselves emotionally attached to old customs, the world has a way of leaving people behind who do not conform. They may refuse to acknowledge that older customs still exist by creating laws, technologies, or concepts that may make traditional concepts obsolete. On the other hand, people from traditional societies can find ways to incorporate their beliefs into modern culture which will neither neglects their moral views or praises technology.
Relationally: This passage relates to another one of Postman’s essays entitled, From Tools to Technocracy. On page 38 in the second paragrapgh, Postman states that “God’s design certainly lost much of its power and meaning, and with that loss went the satisfactions of a culture in which moral and intellectual values were integrated.” This connects to the passage because once again, Postman is describing the relationship between tradition and the progression of technology. On that same page he explains that people also felt as though knowledge was power and the key to advancing humanity. Further down he states that “at the same time, we must remember that in the tool-using culture of the older European world, the vast majoring of people were peasants, impoverished and powerless.” I believe Postman was trying to weigh the differences in traditional societies (tool-using cultures) and modern societies (technocracies) by expounding on the fact that God (the entity responsible for many traditional customs) has lost all power with the introduction of technology. In a way, people have fallen from “grace” by adhering to the standards of present times, and even by realizing that their lives were somewhat meaningless and powerless when they were holding on to faith.
“The thrust of a century of scholarship had the effect of making us lose confidence in our belief systems and therefore in ourselves. Amid the conceptual debris, there remained one sure thing to believe in–technology. Whatever else may be denied or compromised, it is clear that airplanes do fly, antibiotics do cure, radios do speak, and, as we know now, computers do calculate and never make mistakes–only faulty humans do.” (Page 55)
Literally: This portion of the essay is explaining the significance and the relevance of technology. It’s saying that although we may lose confidence in our belief systems (traditional customs), and even doubt ourselves, certainly we cannot doubt technology. I think Postman says this because technology was created with specific concentration on special tasks. He references Frederick Taylor who said that human beings are faulty and liable to make errors, whereas technology is not clouded by human emotion and complicated thought processes. Therefore, it is safe to assume that technology will always follow through with its assigned duties while making other methods of creating seem defunct in the process.
Intellectually: This quote makes me think about the work force. In regards to the work force, when it comes to efficiency, money, skill, and time management, people tend to rely heavily on machines rather than on human beings. When you look around, you can see that major occupations are being replaced with machines. Occupations such as bank tellers, public transit employees, fast food workers, and many other jobs are being phased out or replaced. This ensures that a lot of money will be made and saved (no human agents to pay), the job will be done efficiently and skillfully (no human agents to make errors), and a lot of time will be saved since technology tends to work much faster than people and multi-task in the process.
Emotionally: This passage makes me feel helpless. Why? Well, because I am in the minority when it comes to those who actually hold the power to make such changes. By that, I mean that the reliance on technology is something that is beyond my control. I often wonder what type of future I can have, or my unborn children can have when we’re basically being replaced by machinery. What say do you have in a society that doesn’t trust their fellow human being? How do you combat that? How do we get people to understand that we made technology, therefore we are worthy of being trusted? It’s an unfortunate situation to be in and a devastating realization.
Relationally: I’ve decided to connect this passage to the Winner piece, once again. On page 133 in the first paragraph, Winner says, “It is characteristic of societies based on large, complex technological systems, however, that moral reasons other than those of practical necessity appear increasingly obsolete, “idealistic,” and irrelevant. Whatever claims one may wish to make on behalf of liberty, justice or equality can be immediately neutralized when confronted with arguments to the effect: “Fine, but that’s no way to run a railroad.”” This quote connects to the passage I took from Postman’s essay because it is basically describing the same idea that morals and ethics have no place in practicality. Winner is almost saying that it’s unnecessary to talk about values when it comes to successfully running a complex technological system. He says that it’s obsolete and irrelevant. This is also showing the lack of trust human beings have in each other. We don’t care to understand the plight of others when there are technological advances that need to be catered to. From what I read, I also understand Winner’s argument to mean that regardless of the state of human affairs, we know that technology is going to accomplish the tasks it’s been assigned to do, and there is little to no room to discuss anything else.