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Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to…

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992)

by Neil Postman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,231126,459 (3.8)11
  1. 10
    The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman (proximity1)
  2. 00
    The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand (proximity1)
  3. 00
    The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew Bacevich (proximity1)
    proximity1: The logical consequences of technopoly go hand in hand with an ever-expanding and ever-more-intrusive state surveillance aparatus which their proponents try to justify by assumptions about national security matters. These works, both so important, should be read together or serially for greater effect.… (more)
  4. 00
    The Waning of Humaneness by Konrad Lorenz (proximity1)
  5. 00
    In the Country of the Young by John W. Aldridge (proximity1)
  6. 00
    Exploring the Black Box: Technology, Economics, and History by Nathan Rosenberg (proximity1)
    proximity1: see also: http://www.librarything.com/catalog_bottom.php?tag=A+Reading+Course+in+%27Technology+%26+Society%27+-+main+text&view=proximity1
  7. 00
    You are not a gadget : a manifesto by Jaron Lanier (proximity1)
  8. 00
    Le destin technologique by Jean-Jacques Salomon (proximity1)
    proximity1: Le destin technologique , which presents interesting complementary reading to Technopoly, was published in the same year, 1992. Both are fascinating and both are by brilliant thinkers. See also, by J-J Salomon, in English, Mirages of development : science and technology for the third worlds … (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
We all recognize the changing world around us: our phones are computers, our computers are televisions, and our bookshelves are now condensed to a single Kindle reader. Books upon books have been written on the subject, but all of them seem to echo the question, "What next?". For this, Postman has a remedy; we should not be asking, "What next?", but "Why?".

In a rather brilliant and often very clever dissection of modern culture, Postman breaks down when technology became a tool to be used by humans and turned into the master. He outlines three major time periods in culture: tool-using cultures, technocracies, and technopolies. The first uses tools as a means to carry out an overarching ideology (for instance, supposing the printing press will be a boon to Catholicism). The technocracies see technology as a means to improve upon the human condition. Finally, technopolies arise, wherein the former ideology is destroyed, and technology itself becomes both the new guiding ideology and the means.

Postman, without becoming alarmist or shaking his walking stick at televisions/radios/etc., manages to explain why this is not a good thing, and what the ramifications of such a technopoly are. We have already seen them ourselves, in the presence of bureaucracies that seem uncaring and soulless to those who are crushed beneath it.

The book was written in 1992, which sometimes dates it - there is no reference to the Internet and its wider implications, for instance - but other than that, it seems oddly prescient.

He feels obliged at the end to offer a solution, which is unfortunately almost necessary to those who choose a lack of a solution as a valid defense for ignoring the criticism itself, and though it was certainly stirring and inspirational, and no doubt would work, it is patently obvious that as higher-education institutions themselves are wrapped up in the new technopoly and cease to see students anymore, but instead, consumers, the practical implication is nigh impossible; colleges want their money.

Still, he proposes that there is no way to stop it, but we can show an awareness and practice "technological modesty" - recognizing that technology, in and itself, is not always progress, and that even technology used for good purposes can lead to social debits and unintended consequences. ( )
  kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
Read at work over lunch breaks.
I was going to write that this book is absolutely terrible, that its use should be confined to classes on the use of polemic and advanced straw-man attacks. Nearly every paragraph contains something deeply flawed, whether arguing from specious analogy, exaggerated mischaracterizations, citing an authority rather than proving or demonstrating his point, assuming points he can't make, and on on on on on. If you kept the paragraphs that didn't commit errors of logic or fallacies of argument, there may only be a few pages remaining. And this is sad, as there are several good ideas buried underneath all this drek. It's an elitist (remember when the only people talking and doing things were the 10%?), conservative (Burkean-type, but also Go Nancy Reagan!), pro-American (isn't it just wonderful that the Chinese in Tiananmen Square made a replica Statue of Liberty? America is the best, when functioning "properly") rant for a lost age that only existed for a few, if at all. He slams our attitude to science as being religious, then urges on a return to a more reverent religious time (this is a common argument, and it never makes any sense). And let's just say that Technopoly is a shorthand for everything Postman doesn't like about modern society. Technical, bureaucratic, computerized, saturated with simple entertainments and advertising, short sighted with no regard for history. The good parts lurk amongst this overstated and poorly stitched together mix.

Bah. I mean, I was going to write a lot more, pages more, and was going to attempt to be coherent. But instead this is all that is going to come out.

Except! The last chapter. Oh, that last chapter. It is, for the most part, incredibly good. He proposes some solutions to the problems of Technopoly, and I largely agree. It must begin with education, as it is one of the few technologies we have (note: I'm using Postman's terminology; I'm profoundly uncomfortable calling our educational apparatus a technology) that people will allow to be modified, and it directly addresses people's attitudes and behaviours. His proposal is actually modest, and he admits that it is only a beginning. He suggests that all of our classes be taught with a strong historical component, in essence demystifying the content, which allows the student a chance to critically engage the material. He wants Semantics taught in language classes, so that we may come to understand how words come to have meaning, how they relate to the world and to the senses we want to give them. A history of Science will show students that Science is more than just facts and weird equations, that it is a profound venture into understanding how the world works and our place in it, and that the people involved in creating it were all too human. Where does this leave History classes? History is to change from lists of facts of names and dates, an incomprehensible schmozzle if ever there was one, to teaching how history is created, why it is written the way it is, and the uses to which it has been put to use. No history is neutral, all have their inherent bias. This helps center a student in a world of deeper cultural influences, to tell a richer and more involved story of their origins and how they fit in to the present, and how to better grasp the stories of those who come from different cultural backgrounds. Of interest, as he is a conservative, he believes that when this is done properly, it will avoid the worst excesses of cultural relativism.

So, I applaud his last chapter. Unfortunately, it can't really redeem the mess that is the rest of the book.
2 stars oc ( )
  starcat | Aug 11, 2014 |
It points out a problem. It offers a reasonable solution. Unlikely, but reasonable. I like it. ( )
  remikit | Aug 22, 2010 |
Easily one of the most important works of our time and simply indispensible for understanding the interconnections between social and technological developments.

The thinking-person's guide to the contemporary world of industrial society, Technopoly offers its readers indispensible keys to understanding what is happening all around them as well as invaluable insights into how to recognize and interpret the meaning and importance of social and technological developements in the years to come.

For every social issue of our times, Postman's analyses of the technological aspects will startle the reader with their revealing light on the often-missed core of the matter.

Those who try to make sense of the world today without the insights of this essential work resemble people who wander aimlessly through a mine-field. ( )
1 vote proximity1 | Mar 20, 2010 |
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Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science. Paul Goodman, New Reformation
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679745408, Paperback)

Neil Postman is one of the most level-headed analysts of education, media, and technology, and in this book he spells out the increasing dependence upon technology, numerical quantification, and misappropriation of "Scientism" to all human affairs. No simple technophobe, Postman argues insightfully and writes with a stylistic flair, profound sense of humor, and love of language increasingly rare in our hastily scribbled e-mail-saturated world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:33 -0400)

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A social critic argues that the United States has become a "technopoly"--a system that sacrifices social institutions for self-perpetuating technological advancement--and suggests ways to use technical skills to enhance our democracy.

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