A Few Thoughts on Neil Postman's “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”

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The first idea that Postman starts out with is that culture always pays a price for technology. This is something that I cannot disagree with but I’m not sure that Postman fully explores the examples he gives of disadvantages. For example, he mentions that the automobile “has poisoned our air, choked our cities, and degraded the beauty of our natural landscape.” These are all true but when reading this, I first think that without the automobile, most of us would not know the beauty of the natural landscape because we couldn’t get there in a reasonable amount of time. This is really a double-edged sword. Later in his thoughts on this idea, Postman suggests that we need to ask, “What will a new technology do?” and “What will a new technology undo?” I posit that we should add one more question to this (and I think this is partially what Postman was trying to get at): “Will these doings and undoings be overall good or overall bad for society?” A current example of this would be the Internet as a whole. Although it can be broken down into specific Internet applications, the current popular belief is that we are becoming more isolated from regular human interactions as we get more into the Internet (a position not necessarily supported by the academic research). The plus of the Internet is that we suddenly have access to information on the cloud that would have been nearly impossible to come across previously. The negative of the Internet is that our human interactions and relationships may be changing in a negative manner. Is this overall good or bad? I don’t necessarily have a cut or dry answer for that one.

The idea that really ties Postman’s whole paper together is his fourth idea – the idea that technological change is not additive but rather ecological. Although he is much more conservative and cautious on this idea than I personally am, it is something that really needs to be considered when looking at all his other points. A really great current example of this is social media. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are often used for posting funny videos of cats but they have truly integrated themselves into society. Entertainment and politics are changed incredibly by something that was only meant to connect people. We spend hours a day posting on peoples walls and looking up funny videos of people accidentally hurting themselves but these mediums can start revolutions as well. The Tunisian Jasmine Revolution really gained steam from a video posted on YouTube of a young computer scientist/roadside fruit seller setting himself on fire as an act of protest. If this technology didn’t exist and wasn’t prevalent, the following social unrest would have never occurred.