Technopoly, by Neil Postman

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman

I found this book very interesting and thought-provoking. As I have not had time to compile my thoughts into paragraph form as regarding this book, I thought I would just share the notes that I took while reading. While not written from a “Christian” perspective, I do believe that Postman offers a lot of good advice for Christians and non-Christians alike. This is a book I would recommend for those looking to have their eyes opened to the path of technology in our culture and its consequences.


Technopoly by Neil Postman

–          Premise: Two cultures in opposition – technology vs. everybody else

–          Phaedrus. Pluto – Thamus & Theuth

  • Technophiles: see technology without blemish
  • Technophobes: see nothing but burdens of technology

–          Premise: The wise understand both the benefits and burdens of technology and new technological changes

–          Premise: Technology is not neutral

–          Premise: Technological changes change the meanings of words

  • “When words lose their meaning, people lose their lives.” – Bauman

–          Television, as image-driven, is the anti-school (literary, print, word –based) educator: will “video” change education as we know it?

–          Grades as a technological change – identifying ideas by numerical value. (Example of how our minds view reality differently thanks to technology)

–          “Language is not merely a vehicle of thought, but also the driver.” – Wittgenstein

–          There is a battle of printed word (logic, sequence, history, exposition, objectivity, detachment, discipline) vs. television/video (imagery, narrative, presentness, simultaneity, intimacy, immediate gratification, and quick emotional response).

  • Computers in class rooms as defeat of openness, communal speech, and orality; triumph of egocentrism and individual problem solving.

–          “New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of our community: the arena in which thoughts develop.” P.20

–          Premise: 3 types of cultures: tool-using, technocracies, technopolies

  • Tool-using cultures: tools were invented for two reasons: (A) to solve specific and urgent problems of physical life, (B) to serve symbolic world of art, politics, myth, ritual, and religion. Spiritual ideas and social customs are controlling forces of tool uses.
  • Technocracy: tools play a central role in thought-world of culture. Tools bid to become the culture, causing traditions, social mores, politics, and religion to fight for their lives. It is a separation of moral and intellectual values.
    • “The greatest invention of the 19th century was the idea of invention itself. 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 19th century. P. 42
    • “The engine of technological progress worked most efficiently when people are conceived of not as children of God, or even citizens, but as consumers – that is to say, as markets.” P. 42
  • Technopoly: eliminates alternatives to itself; totalitarian technocracy
    • “It does not make them [alternatives] illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make the unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant. And it does so by redefining what we mean by religion, by art, by family, by politics, by history, by truth, by privacy, by intelligence, so that our definitions fit its new requirements.” P. 48
    • In reference to Scopes: “The battle settled the issue, once and for all: in defining truth, the great narrative of inductive science takes precedence over the great narrative of Genesis, and those who do not agree must remain in an intellectual backwater.” P. 50
  • Assumptions of Thought-World of Technopoly: P. 51
    • Primary/only goal of human labor and thought is efficiency
    • Technical calculation is superior to human judgment
    • Human judgment cannot be trusted
    • Subjectivity is an obstacle to clear thinking
    • What can’t be measured does not exist and is of no value
    • Affairs of citizens are best guided by experts
  • “The system does the thinking.” P. 51/52
  • “Human beings are worth less than their machinery.” P. 52
  • “To every old world belief, habit, or tradition, there was and still is a technological alternative. To prayer, the alternative is penicillin; to family roots, the alternative is mobility; to reading, the alternative is television; to restrain, the alternative is immediate gratification; to sin, the alternative is psychotherapy; to political ideology, the alternative is popular appeal established through scientific polling. There is even an alternative to the painful riddle of dath, as Freud called it. The riddle may be postponed through longer life, and then perhaps solved altogether by cryogenics.” P. 54
  • “Abetted by a form of education that in itself has been emptied of any coherent worldview, technopoly deprives us of the social, political, historical, metaphysical, logical, or spiritual bases for knowing what is beyond belief.” P. 58
  • “Few ‘scientific’ concepts have so thoroughly muddled the thinking of both scientists and the general public as that of the ‘intelligence quotient’ or ‘IQ.’ The idea that intelligence can be quantitatively measured along a singular linear scale has caused untold harm to our society in general, and to education in particular.” – Joseph Weizenbaum, p. 131
  • Words attribute meaning to concepts – making us see them as ‘things’ that are not – ex. Intelligence.
  • “Grading provides an ‘objective’ measure of human performance and creates the unshakeable illusion that accurate calculations can be made of worthiness. The human being becomes, to use Michael Foucault’s phrase, ‘a calculable person.’” P. 140
  • “Modern secular education is failing not because it doesn’t teach wh Ginger Rogers, Norman Mailers, and a thousand other people are but because it has no moral, social, or intellectual center. There is no set of ideas or attitudes that permeates all parts of the curriculum. The curriculum is not, in fact, a ‘course of study’ at all but a meaningless hodgepodge of subjects. It does not even put forward a clear vision of what constitutes an education person, unless it is a person who possesses ‘skills.’ In other words, a technocrat’s ideal – a person with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketable skills.” P. 186
  • “For to know about your roots is not merely to know where your grandfather came from and what he had to endure, it is also to know where your ideas came from and why you happen to believe them; to know where your moral and aesthetic sensibilities come from.” P. 189
  • Every subject should be taught as history: “The history of subjects teaches connections; it teaches that the world is not created anew each day, that everyone stands on someone else’s shoulders.” P. 190
  • Every school should offer semantics – the processes by which people make meaning.
  • “English teachers claim to be concerned with teaching reading and writing. But if they do not teach anything about the relationship of language to reality – which is semantics studies – I cannot imagine how they expect reading and writing to improve.” P. 194
  • “Every teacher ought to be a semantics teacher, since it is not possible to separate language from what we call knowledge.” P. 194
  • “There is certainly ample evidence that the study of semantics will improve the writing and reading of our students. But it invariably does more. It helps students to reflect on the sense and truth of what they are writing and what they are asked to read. It teaches them to discover the underlying assumptions of what they are told.” P. 195

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