Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Technology in the Balance

I'm no opponent of technology. I blog. I twitter. I Facebook. I'm thankful I didn't have to research my dissertation without the help of electronic databases, and being able to consult with my advisor by email saved me many trips to Oxford or at least many days waiting on snail-mail. And how would I make it without a microwave and a crockpot? (Not to mention those awesome technologies like electricity and running water. But I digress.)


I do worry sometimes what all this technology is doing to our culture. Doomsdayers prophesy the end of the printed book. Students would rather watch the movie than read the novel. Nobody writes real letters any more. We listen to music through plugs in our ears rather than in concert halls. We seem to be losing a sense of community.

I read Neil Postman's Technopoly last week, and in it he explores the effect technologies have on cultures, how they change them by their mere existence. He doesn't advocate going back to the Stone Age, but he does propose some strategies for "resistance fighters":

Those who resist the American Technopoly are people

--who pay no attention to a poll unless they know what questions were asked and why;

--who refuse to accept effiency as the pre-eminent goal of human relations;

--who have freed themselves from the belief in the magical power of numbers, do not regard calculation as an adequate substitute for judgment, or precision as a synonym for truth;

--who refuse to allow psychology or any "social science" to pre-empt the language and thought of common sense;

--who are, at least, suspicious of the idea of progress, and who do not confuse information with understanding;

--who do not regard the aged as irrelevant;

--who take seriously the meaning of family loyalty and honor, and who, when they "reach out and touch someone," expect that person to be in the same room;

--who take the great narratives of religion seriously and do not believe that science is the only system of thought capable of producing truth;

--who know the difference between the sacred and the profane, and who do not wink at tradition for modernity's sake;

--who admire technological ingenuity but do not think it represents the highest possible form of human achievement.

Wow. I think he's got something there.


davidmanes said...

I remember being depressed for a long time after I read that book. It was even worse because Pat Garner was the professor who assigned it. He is one of the most spastic and paranoid anti-technological people I know.

I guess you could call him a resistance fighter. :)

However, I have a question about Postman's argument that persists. Don't you think that he attacks a straw man argument in a lot of ways? Even with this bullet point list, he argues against going to extremes ("accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal of human relations"). I think he could have done a better job drawing a reasonable line instead of just attacking the extreme edge.

Stephanie said...

I do, David, and I struggle with it. I love technology, but sometimes I feel like it controls me and takes me away from better uses of my time. However, I don't think it's all technology's fault. I'm in control of how and how much I use it--or I should be. I think Postman's effective in a lot of ways (at least on the surface), maybe because he does play on our feelings of loss and lack of connection. And, certainly, he focuses almost exclusively on the negative aspects of technology and even presents the positives in a negative light (that sounded weird). And his "solutions" are still generalizations. (But some of them make me feel good.) I would have liked more concrete ways to address the "problem."

And you're right about PG. Listening to him talk about scientific advancement can make you paranoid. But such energy!