In Postman’s book, Technopoly, he warns us of the dangers of technology. He begins chapter one with the story of Thamus speaking to Theuth about the invention of writing. Thamus feared that writing would cause people to rely on it to remember things and that society would be overrun with individuals with a quantity of information,”without proper training”. Postman(1992) does acknowledge that technology has provided many new opportunities. However, he cautions that we should keep in mind that it is both a “blessing and a burden” and that new technology should be brought into society with our “eyes wide open”.
The focus of this commentary is on the blessings of technology and how they might outweigh the burdens. Postman(1992) mentions that with any new technology there are winners and there are losers. However, there are winners and losers in all areas of society, not just in the area of technology. In order for one sporting team to win a game, the other team must lose. If one person wins a job placement, others have lost that position. One must question why it would be any different in the world of technology.
Postman(1992) also mentions that those that become competent in this new technology become the ‘elite” and have power over those that do not possess this competency. The winners will encourage enthusiasm for the technology that they are benefiting from. The losers might even cheer on the winners of this new technology, unaware that they are the losers. He uses an example of how the invention of the television and computers could bring about the end of school teachers and yet, teachers are excited about these new technologies. Will the schoolteacher become obsolete? There may be a shift in their roles as a teacher and they may need to learn how to use the new technology, but they still will be necessary to facilitate learning. An example of this can be found with e-learning. Learning can now occur without face to face instruction and the need to physically attend a university. However, a trained educator is still necessary to create courses and monitor learning. The designers of the Learning Management Systems may be the ultimate winner, but the teacher and student benefit greatly from this technology and are somewhat winners in their own right.
Another example Postman(1992) uses is the invention of the clock. It was originally invented to provide a standard for monks to complete their regular devotions to God. However, it eventually developed into a way to regulate a work week and provide business owners a way to get the most out of their employer’s time. It is true that workers are now bound by a clock, but the blessings from having this type of technology benefit the losers, as well. It is used for much more than keeping track of work hours. We also use time to for many recreational events , such as: celebrate important dates, meet others for social events, etc. Without clocks, it would be challenging organizing our daily life. Again, the invention of the clock may have caused the worker’s day to be defined for the employer, but the benefits of being able to keep track of the hours benefits us all.
In this chapter, Postman(1992) also states that, “new technologies compete with old ones – for time, for attention, for money, for prestige, but mostly for dominance of their world-view” (p.16) He uses the previous examples of televisions and computers in schools. First, children come to school with the television already a huge part of their lives. Postman(1992) says that because of this, they are unable to focus on the printed word and have difficulty writing, etc. These students may be labelled as “stupid” or “failures” , but it is not their fault. They are on the losing side of the television vs the print media war. Secondly, the introduction of computers has broken the truce between print and orality that has existed in the classroom. Will the computer eventually cause the defeat of oral presentations in the classroom? Computers can only enhance what is already present in schools. Speaking and listening are still important outcomes in the curriculum. In the Atlantic Canada English Language Arts K-3 Curriculum Guide, one of the specific outcomes is as follows, “Students will speak and listen to explore, extend, clarify and reflect on their thoughts, ideas, feelings and experiences” ( p. 54). Computers have helped children prepare projects, understand concepts and explore the world around them. However, oral presentations and teacher questioning are still necessary and are a part of the classroom daily.
The benefits of technology are tremendous. Technology makes our daily life easier and more efficient, makes communication across the globe possible, assists those with disabilities, allows individuals with illnesses to live a better quality of life and longer. Does that make us losers? Are users of technology the house dog in Postman’s(1992) analogy and technology the burglar? The users may be “munching peacefully on the meat while the house is looted” (p.19). However, those dogs are watch dogs and know what is going on. They may be excited about the meat and choose to eat it because of it’s benefits. The burglar may even get some loot from the house because of their choice to eat the meat, but not without a bite and growl from the dog on their way out the door. If all house dogs were to do the same, that burglar might think twice before looting again.
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Department of Education (1999). A curriculum guide.
Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage Books.