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Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992)

by Neil Postman

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,916218,900 (3.88)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)
  1. 10
    The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman (proximity1)
  2. 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)
  3. 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
  4. 00
    You are not a gadget : a manifesto by Jaron Lanier (proximity1)
  5. 00
    In the Country of the Young by John W. Aldridge (proximity1)
  6. 00
    The Waning of Humaneness by Konrad Lorenz (proximity1)
  7. 00
    The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University by Louis Menand (proximity1)
  8. 00
    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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    Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up by William Poundstone (themulhern)
    themulhern: These books have an affinity: Postman looks at the bigger picture and Poundstone is relatively trivial. Poundstone is a great deal more contemporary. They both are about a technology that can take away all our capacity to think.
  10. 00
    The Meaning of it All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist by Richard Feynman (themulhern)
    themulhern: Both are thoughtful books by smart people. They intersect in their impatience with the pretensions of the social sciences.
  11. 00
    Pillar of the Sky by Cecelia Holland (themulhern)
    themulhern: "Pillar" is a case study of the effects of technology on culture which Postman addresses in "Technopoly".
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» See also 12 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
*multiple copies owned*
  The_Literary_Jedi | Jul 21, 2024 |
Thought provoking. A very prescient, for its day, insight into the trouble with technologies, particularly the way we unthinkingly embrace all technology as an advance and sign off progress instead of considering the consequences of a trivialized onslaught of information that is worse than meaningless as it renders us dumb and confused in a world divorced from connection and historical perspective and meaning. Postman cautions the reader to beware of polls (always ask, what was being asked! I.e is it okay to smoke while praying? No. Is it okay to pray while smoking? Yes) all subjects should be taught as history, not just history. He wants to find reverence again in religion but here I think he misses the opportunity for secular faith which will bring us or of our destructive extractive cultureā€¦but overall very good and thoughtful. The medium is the message.
  BookyMaven | Dec 6, 2023 |
One of the best book by Postman, as usual based on good historical research and very clear thoughts. Written in 1992, it's still fresh and an indispensable read to understand the role of technology in society (coupled with other classic on this topic). ( )
  d.v. | May 16, 2023 |
This book by Neil Postman is profound, engaging, and challenging. These days, when we speak of 'technology,' we speak of mobile phone technology, computer technology, and other allied topics. However, the role technology has played in our lives is deep.

Neil Postman takes us on a journey, starting from the concept of technology and why he coined a new word, 'technopoly.' Inventions like the clock, the printing press, photography, etc., have profoundly shaped humanity, and we do not think of this. We take these technologies for granted.

It is thirty years since he wrote the book, and the lessons he offers hold even today when the developments are even more rapid.

The question is: are we ready, and can we adapt? An excellent companion book to this one is Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock."

His last chapter on education is instructive.

Neil Postman writes forcefully and keeps you engaged right until the end. This book is important. ( )
  RajivC | Nov 28, 2022 |
Another pithy Neil Postman polemic! And he's mostly right, too. Once one becomes familiar with Neil Postman, I think one can read individual chapters as stand-alone essays.

So, I went straight to Chapter 9: Scientism, as I already have a dismissive attitude to the so-called "social sciences", based on reading works written fairly long ago, like Feynman's essay on "Cargo Cult Science" and more recent things, like the psychological experiments on a frozen salmon. Bad ideas of scientism as Postman lists them:

1. The methods of the natural sciences can be applied to the study of human behavior.
2. Social science generates specific principles which can be used to organize society on a rational and humane basis.
3. Faith in science can serve as a comprehensive belief system that gives meaning to life, as well as a sense of well-being, morality, and even immortality.

He points out that both scientists and "social scientists" use quantities, that's not proof that they're doing the same thing, any more than it's proof that accountants are doing science. Both sometimes do things that they call experiments, of course. "Social science" is, he points out, unfalsifiable. "Social science" is our modern substitute for the kind of thing we might usually seek through the reading of novels, and learn more by so doing. What is going on in "social science" is the establishment of a mythology.

Good quotation:
"Unlike science, social research never rediscovers anything. It only rediscovers what people once were told and need to be told again."

Chapter 10, "The Great Symbol Drain" is a bit harder to follow. I think I'm so constructed that anything that has symbolic meaning has to be complicated. A flag, for instance, means nothing to me in itself, even if the country does. Postman also talks about more complicated symbols, those that arise in religion for example. He claims that the reproduction of images makes them less meaningful, but I'm not sure that's true, either. His statement that cultures must find narratives is interesting in 2020, but chilling because it makes comparisons of the USA in 2021 with the Germany of the pre-WWII years all too easy to see as illuminating or plausible. There is a brief foray into education and a somewhat prescient remark about how "education must become a tribal affair; that is, each subculture must find its own story and symbols, and use them as the moral basis of education." This isn't what's happening, now a single subculture is asserting its incoherent philosophy of education as far as it can.

There is an excellent quotation from Plato's Phaedrus in Chapter 1. Below is a slightly different translation:
"""
If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks. What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing, and as men filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom, they will be a burden to their fellows.
"""

That's our internet, alright. ( )
  themulhern | Feb 7, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)

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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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

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