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Technopoly : the surrender of culture to…
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Technopoly : the surrender of culture to technology (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Neil Postman

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1,468178,081 (3.87)12
In this witty, often terrifying work of cultural criticism, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death chronicles our transformation into a Technopoly: a society that no longer merely uses technology as a support system but instead is shaped by it--with radical consequences for the meanings of politics, art, education, intelligence, and truth.… (more)
Member:chielvanderveen
Title:Technopoly : the surrender of culture to technology
Authors:Neil Postman
Info:New York : Vintage Books, 1993.
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Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman (1992)

  1. 10
    The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman (proximity1)
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    The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand (proximity1)
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    The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project) 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)
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    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
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    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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» See also 12 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
It is difficult, if not impossible, stray too far into the literature of contemporary cultural criticism without running headlong into a Neil Postman reference…typically brief, often coated with a benign diplomacy that betrays nothing useful, and sometimes with a tone of sighing obligation. It seems that, like Stanley Fish, Neil Postman is one of that breed of intellectual that takes an almost excessive delight in raining on OTHER people's parades.

I'll admit, as a scholar in my own small right, I felt a bit uncomfortable reading a scholar who…well, deeply questioned whether or not our culture even really understood what "scholarship" really was. (Just read his thoughts on social "science" and the value of "statistics," and you'll understand that last sentence.)

But Postman is not some sociology prof-reject out to right some past tenure-interview-gone-terribly-awry. The project of "Technology" is at once more basic and more profound. Honestly, I found the argument of the book incredibly simple and easy-to-follow: The relationship of humanity to its technologies has passed through two complete evolutionary stages: from tool-using to technocracy and has now entered a third phase that is the title of the book. The issue here is not the development of specific technologies (note the lowercase "t") but a shift in the positioning of Technology (note the capital "T") in relationship to other domains of knowledge. No longer content to coexist with, say, other realms of truth-telling like Religion and Tradition, Technology now threatens to overtake them. As Postman writes:

"Technopoly eliminates alternatives to itself…It does not make them illegal. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant" (p. 48).

Technopoly is, he summarizes, "totalitarian technocracy." To put his point in more theological terms that I can better grasp, modern Western societies (especially the USA) now have more faith in the promise of Technology than they do in the promise of Humanity. (Faith in the promise of Divinity began its slow fade with the rise of the Enlightenment, but that is a digression from the topic at hand.) The balance has subtly shifted from optimism that WE (Humanity) could shape Technology to meet OUR ends to a new kind of optimism that Technology could rescue/save US from the frightening ends to which we have put it. So, in the Technopolist world, the answer to, say, the threat of nuclear holocaust is—in fact, MUST be—a technological one. Bigger bombs, better defense systems, satellites with lasers…you get the point, I hope.

Postman is not out to destroy Technology; he doesn't promote some impossible return to a pre-technological age. Rather, he wants to break Technology's DOMINATION over other ways and realms of human knowing. Postman simply tries to illuminate Technopoly's slow creep. Ever so subtly, Technology has become the Master and Humanity has assumed the role of servant. Truth is reduced to Data; Wisdom is misidentified as Information. And anything that does not easily convert to a "data-stream" format—any Truth that cannot be spit out as a number in a data table—becomes useless. What makes the effects of Technopoly so insidious is both their subtlety and their pervasiveness. This kind of thinking is literally everywhere, from dating websites that match users based on some system of personality "profiling" to educational assessment strategies that focus on "data-driven decision-making processes" (if I had a dollar for every time I heard THAT phrase at an accreditation conference). And in a Technopoly, the educator doesn't even think to ask: "Why should data be what drives educational decisions?" What a person earns after completing a college degree actually tells you very little about whether or not they are an "educated" person; it's simply a good way for the government to track their ROI on student grants & loans programs, a classically Technopolist concern.

I suppose it feels a bit overblown to describe a book as "revolutionary." And perhaps you will think Postman's work ISN'T that, after all. But it is the closest I'VE come to a "revolutionary" read in the past few years. Postman's problem is not that his observations are off-base; his problem is that they are prophetic…observations that will "take on" meaning and significance as the decades pass. And, unfortunately, as with the observations of most prophets, I fear their truth will recognized by most in society at a point too late to matter. ( )
  Jared_Runck | Jan 27, 2019 |
Published in 1993 but it's like this morning. Intelligent critic of our belief in technology ( )
  lucaconti | Jan 24, 2019 |
Long reviews are mostly necessary (or enjoyable) for more flawed works; it is more tedious to recount the countless ways in which a book succeeds than the ways in which it fails. This review will therefore be of modest proportions.

Technopoly is the second Postman book I've read after his brilliant Amusing Ourselves to Death. As with the previous book, Technopoly is accessible, but not dumbed-down; it has a depth of philosophical insight without being to technical (no pun intended); and its arguments are rendered in complex but lucid prose.

The problems and critiques it raises are many-faceted and diverse: from medical technologies to symbol devaluation in advertising, from the historical development of technopoly (in opposition to technocracy, and previously, simply tools) to the possible solutions. The critiques are clear-headed and well argued for and I appreciated Postman's ideas about what a counter-technopolical curriculum might look like. However, the book was short on practical ways in which the knowledge presented therein might be circulated and implemented; Postman is not a strategist, which perhaps is fine, as long as others are willing to take up that cross.

I was slightly disappointed, although ultimately understanding, of his dismissal of a curriculum (and more broadly, a culture) devoted to the ultimate end of God's glory. Society calls this idea outdated, and Postman expects it to garner little support, but I fail to see how own idea of narrative of human ascent is necessarily any more contemporary, and how it avoids the pitfalls of "progress" narratives. Also, by framing the curriculum in that way, he is validating the secularizing forces that also played a role in establishing technopoly. In fact, he is very wary of analyzing the problems of technopoly through a clearly Catholic lens, which I think might have been quite fruitful. Of course, Postman had his audience in mind, I suppose, but the omission was slightly disheartening.

All in all: a wonderful book that has left me with much food for thought, and that I will probably revisit in the near future. Also, I want to read everything Postman has ever written. ( )
  bulgarianrose | Mar 13, 2018 |
Rating 3.75
Wow book started a little slow and repetitive as he was laying the groundwork for his dissertation. To oversimplify the book once something new comes along everything is not the same. Like when the printing press came about. Oral story telling became a thing of the past.

A few good quotes:
"In technopoly, we are driven to fill our lives with the quest to "access" information. For what purpose or what limitations, it is not for us to ask; and we are not accustomed to asking, since the problem is unprecedented. The world has never before been confronted with information glut and has hardly had time to reflect on its consequences."


"Everyone who has a headache wants and expects a CAT scan. Roughly 6 out of every 10 are unnecessary."

"If digital computers had been in common use before the atomic bomb was invented,people would have said that the bomb could not have been invented without computers but it was. And it is important to remind ourselves of how many things are quite possible to do without the use of computers."


To close out the book Postman goes on to say "I would recommend that every subject be taught as history. In this way, children, even in the earliest grades, can begin to understand, as they now do not, knowledge is not a fixed thing but a stage in human development." ( )
  JWarrenBenton | Jan 4, 2016 |
Rating 3.75
Wow book started a little slow and repetitive as he was laying the groundwork for his dissertation. To oversimplify the book once something new comes along everything is not the same. Like when the printing press came about. Oral story telling became a thing of the past.

A few good quotes:
"In technopoly, we are driven to fill our lives with the quest to "access" information. For what purpose or what limitations, it is not for us to ask; and we are not accustomed to asking, since the problem is unprecedented. The world has never before been confronted with information glut and has hardly had time to reflect on its consequences."


"Everyone who has a headache wants and expects a CAT scan. Roughly 6 out of every 10 are unnecessary."

"If digital computers had been in common use before the atomic bomb was invented,people would have said that the bomb could not have been invented without computers but it was. And it is important to remind ourselves of how many things are quite possible to do without the use of computers."


To close out the book Postman goes on to say "I would recommend that every subject be taught as history. In this way, children, even in the earliest grades, can begin to understand, as they now do not, knowledge is not a fixed thing but a stage in human development." ( )
  JWarrenBenton | Jan 4, 2016 |
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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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For Faye and Manny
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You will find in Plato's Phaedrus a story about Thamus, the king of a great city in Upper Egypt.
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