I cannot help but keep coming back to Postman’s Technopoly. I started to write this first commentary centered on Ong’s third chapter but Postman keeps bringing me back. I think what resonates with me the most about Postman’s chapter, The Judgement of Thamus, is that I have had to have this type of discussion with a variety of people in my role at school, from parents to teachers – that technology, in particular computers in this case, are yet another tool in the classroom, to be used in conjunction with more traditional means. 21st Century Learning, as it is often coined, includes skills we should have been teaching all along, and indeed have been. The overlying theme is always one of balance.
Postman discusses throughout this chapter the notion from Thamus that writing will, and supposedly has, created false wisdom and damaged memory. The fact that one can draw upon a text means that a person does not need to actually ‘know’ anything. Postman also speaks of one-eyed prophets who only see one side to new technologies and I would argue that the same can be applied to Thamus’ ideas of writing, of which Postman makes note himself, “Thamus’s error is in his believing that writing will be a burden to society and nothing but a burden” (Postman, 4). The notion that text and writing has had only negative effects is, of course, absurd.
Another technological ‘advancement’ that Postman discusses is the television, saying that it might be the death of teaching in general. Much has been written and discussed concerning the horrors of television to youthful minds but there is little evidence to prove that it has a negative effect. It brings to mind the Rudolf Steiner schools who are very strongly opposed to television for children, unless they are educational in content. I am unaware of studies to show that students of Steiner schools are any better off because of their lack of television knowledge of pop culture. If anything, I would say they are worse off socially, outside of the confines of the Steiner school. Is too much television harmful? Likely, but then too much of any one thing is likely to be harmful. Again, balance is needed.
Postman attacks the computer, stating that it has had wonderful effects for the large corporations but has had little benefit to individuals, that individuals are told they need personal computers but that they have little beneficial impact on their lives. In fact, he says that the large corporations are the winners in this, while the average citizen is the loser (Postman, 10). I would argue that the personal computer has been a great leveler among all people, much like the written text made education a level playing field. The small business owner can now expand their sales outside of their town, the small town mechanic can get the parts he needs through online purchase, the teacher can still conducts classes when school is closed to H1N1 or some other disease of the month, and the musician can put their art out there for the masses (just ask Justin Beiber).
In keeping with the personal computer, Postman says, “now comes the computer, carrying anew the banner of private learning and individual problem-solving” (Postman, 17). I would argue the opposite, perhaps in large part because of the Internet and Web 2.0 tools most recently. We are finding that students are collaborating with one another more than before, and in fact are now able to collaborate with peers the world over, rather than only with their classmates in the same classroom. Just look at how we collaborate and share within this MET course itself. Some of the work is independent, as it always has been in the classroom, but much of it is also collaborative, seeking feedback and commentary by one another.
Postman talks about the Technophile and the on-eyed prophet, blindly advocating the use of technology without considering its true implications. The opposite is also true with the Technophobe and their fear of change, their fear of risk-taking and advancement. Again, it comes down to balance. To jump headlong into something new without considering the implications has been seen throughout history, and especially within education itself – we are always trying to find the perfect way to reach all students. I would argue that it is not the biggest thing right now that is going to immediately change things, it is what it opens the door for down the road that is going to have the impact. The computer paved the way for the personal computer which paved the way for distance learning through the Internet which is paving the way for ….
I hear what Postman is saying, I hear it a lot. I think what I find exciting is that technology excites educators into finding new ways of reaching students. we have tried the old methods, the tried and true methods, but they no longer work. We cannot stop or control the speed of technological progress, but we can utilize the shift by understanding new ways of thinking and working with our students.
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York, NY: New York.