Technopoly

“Technopoly eliminates alternatives to itself in precisely he way Aldous Huxley outlined in Brave New World. It does not make them immoral. It does not even make them unpopular. It makes them invisible and therefore irrelevant” (48).

Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage, 1993.

In Technopoly, Postman discusses the role of technology in shaping society and in changing it’s general view. He considers a technopoly, America being the only one currently, to be a society that believes “the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment … and that the affairs of citizens are best guided and conducted by experts” (51). It is a not-all-too-positive view of tools and technologies running our lives (and for fighting back against such an occurrence), but it has a few select points I apply to my research.

In Chapter 5 on “the Broken Defenses,” Postman writes:

The relationship between information and the mechanisms for its control is fairly simple to describe: Technology increases the available supply of information. As the supply is increased, control mechanisms are strained. Additional control mechanisms are needed to cope with new information. When additional control mechanisms are themselves technical, they in turn further increase the supply of information. When the supply of information is no longer controllable, a general breakdown in psychic tranquility (sic) and social purpose occurs. Without defenses, people have no way of finding meaning in their experiences, lose their capacity to remember, and have difficulty imagining reasonable futures. (73)

Almost twenty years after this text’s publication, the amount of available information is incredible and far more than when Postman commented upon it. The internet has grown and transitioned in such a way as to do a fair job of controlling the amount of information and making it accessible, but as Postman notes, that this massive control mechanism is itself technical, it further increases the supply of information. One now has, readily available, text, audio, images, and videos on virtually any topic, as well as current historical recordings. I have heard many colleagues comment on the unwieldy amount of information in general and on any given topic. It does seem overwhelming at times (psychic tranquility) and people all too often forget where something previously found was located. Of course, we have developed devices to assist in memory, such as bookmarks, delicious.com (a site for storing online links), etc. – a point which would make Plato cringe.

However, despite the frequent feeling of being overwhelmed with the amount of information, people generally tend to look toward this state of affairs as a positive one and as being progressive, since technopoly is, according to Postman, the common mindset.

What is clear is that, to date, computer technology has served to strengthen Technopoly’s hold, to make people believe that technological innovation is synonymous with human progress. (117)

Postman states that due to the fact that the computer is all almost all process, no other technology (other than perhaps he lightbulb) has so fit McLuhan’s concept of The medium is the message.

“There are, for example, no ‘great computerers,’ as there are great writers, painters, or musicians. There are ‘great programs’ and ‘great programmers,’ but their greatness lies in their ingenuity either in simulating a human function or in creating new possibilities of calculation, speed, and volume. (118)

The online video conversation (OVC) is a technology that attempts to simulate face-to-face communication, to some extent through the asynchronous online realm. It makes no effort to replace or even match it, but rather to add some level of that multimodal human function to an otherwise single-modality communication method.

Postman continues. “For the moment, computer technology functions more as a new mode of transportation than as a new means of substantive communication” (118). Arguably, since the publication of this text, computer technology has advanced in both its ability and its ubiquity and is now very much a means of deep, direct communication, including email, skype, and the use of smartphones. The OVC also fits into this definition as an example of another way to communicate with individuals using such technology.

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