Tech Giveth, Tech Taketh
Updated: Jun 9, 2019
Through the research I have been doing on all things Low Tech and technology’s impact on society and culture, there have been a few times that I have stumbled upon the name Neil Postman, so I decided to look him up. This guy!
Neil Postman was an author and professor at New York University and did a bunch of research on technology and its impact on culture. His book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, discusses how our culture “finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology.” I stumbled upon a stylish and hip-looking interview with him from the early 90s that you can watch here.
This was a man before his time! It’s actually somewhat humorous in the interview, as he talks about the impact of technologies like televisions and fax machines and telephones. In a time before smartphones and social media, Postman was raising questions along the lines of, “Hey…should we really trust all this technology stuff 100% of the time?”
He brings up some pretty good points and definitely got me thinking. It appears that we have an unwavering trust in technology. We are so quick to accept the latest apps or mobile devices without really questioning anything at all. Postman describes this loyalty to technology as a religion. He quotes, “America has developed a new religion. And the religion that human progress and technological innovation are the same thing and that paradise can be achieved through greater and greater commitment to technology.”
I never really thought of it this way, but it is so true. Our loyalty to our devices, social media, and e-mail is incredible! We are so loyal that real, human connection takes a backseat to our need for connecting digitally. But, as with anything, there are two sides. We are so focused on the benefits of technology, and Postman isn’t hesitant to acknowledge all the positives that come from technological advances. But as we develop and grow increasingly advanced, not many of us are pulling back the reins and questioning, “Okay…these amazing advances are great, but what are the downsides?”
In another video interview, Postman talks about how this faith in technology is nothing new. He discusses how if, in the creation of the automobile, the creators had brought the idea to the public and discussed both the positives AND negatives of this technology that the automobile could have been created in a much more efficient manner.
This is a big reason why I am fascinated with Postman (and Postmen and Postwomen. Delivering mail- the old-fashioned way!). Even in the 90s, he took the time to look at technology from both sides. He says, “All technological change is what I call a Faustian bargain. It gives you something, but it also taketh away something. Almost any American can tell you for a half an hour or more what this new technology will do for us, but there are very few people who have ever considered what this new technology will undo.”
What are your thoughts, friends? Do we need to be more aware of the downsides of technology, in addition to all of its benefits? Are there downsides? Comment below!