Technopoly – Neil Postman

This is another one of those books that everyone and their family dog has recommended to me. I am not entirely sure what I was meant to gain from it.

There is my spoiler for how I felt about it.

Technopoly is Neil Postman’s screed about the perils of a society that is ultimately too reliant and too fawning over technology. It presents an argument in such a rapid fire succession that I while reading it I found myself wondering ‘is this a book or a gish gallop?’

For those of us to whom genre actually matters, I think it is telling that I cannot accurately label this book. Granted, I know that it is non-fiction… but is it philosophy? Sociology? Soothsaying? It certainly doesn’t have the rigor I expected from a science, hard or otherwise. I think the book is the third option: a prophesy made on observation of a time period that is long gone.

There are two massive reasons why I think that this book is a victim of its time period. At some point Postman makes a reference to Linguistic Relativism, a theory I jokingly call the most adored debunked theory of all time. Everyone seems to love it, not realizing that it is not as strong as you think it is. It’s a theory that, to the extent that it is true is so painfully dull that it does nothing to even approach what it is believed to prove in popular conception. If you want someone to stop believing it, you are better off having them read Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass than John McWhorter’s The Language Hoax. Of course, Postman describes the stronger, debunked form in his book, which shows to what extent this book was a product of its time.

The second point I would like to make is merely to suggest that everyone have a nice look around. The vast majority of people seem to hate Facebook and Amazon, flat earthers are a real group, anit-vaccination sentiment is pretty high up, and there is just a general distaste and distrust of science and technology. This does not seem like a society anyone would describe as a Technopoly. The moral of the story here is: when you try to Prophesy, you ALWAYS end up with egg on your face. In the case of Postman, he ended up with the whole damn chicken coop.

But I get why we ended up with this. No one in the 90’s was looking at Hegel’s pendulum and wondering how was in the other direction that bad boy would soon be swinging. We were all just looking at and saying to ourselves ‘Look how far it’s gone. Guess it’s not swinging back this way!’ I was alive in the 90’s, and I more or less thought the same thing. But that is a post for my other blog.

As a weird final thought, Postman puts what is probably the most interesting idea in the whole book right at the end. He suggest as a remedy to all that is happening that we should teach all materials as if they were history. Do not teach children math, teach them the history of mathematics. This half makes sense to me, and it is something that is completely opposite of most opinions I hold on education reform. It is a shame the idea was not fleshed out at much more length, as it is something I felt deserved more attention than the rest of the book.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

3 thoughts on “Technopoly – Neil Postman

    • It combats skepticism. It is harder to see in math, but I feel it applies.
      Modern science (which was really his point) is very far removed from the every day understanding of it. Teaching it via it’s history can show how we have been building upon these ideas over time. It combats the urge to say ‘you’re just making this all up’ by showing someone the reasoning the path towards the reasoning.
      When I was a kid a fellow student said ‘they’re just making this shit up’ when told that a negative and a negative multiplied give you a positive. I heard it again with the concept i. The ancient Greeks stopped at Xeno’s paradox because the invention of zero hadn’t come about yet. I can see how teaching not only the route mathematics but also how these concepts build on one another to be helpful.
      With mathematics it certainly is tricky to know when and how to start this process. But it does, at a conceptual level, make a lot of sense to me.

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  1. “He suggest as a remedy to all that is happening we should teach all materials as if they were history.”

    That is a very interesting idea. I happened upon this idea when I was studying at university myself. It is the best way to understand the material. The nuances and the considerations that previous thinkers bumped against are very informative. I already had faith in the scientific method, so that wasn’t the issue. The focus on its history just made things easier to understand and remember.

    Liked by 1 person

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