The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

The White Flag of Surrender

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology

By Neil Postman


            How has our culture changed because of technology? Are the effects of technology positive or negative? Do we get to decide which technology society keeps and what we disregard? Are we just ‘tools of our tools’ (Postman, 1992)?

            As technology’s pace continues to hit warp speed, we see an ever changing, increasingly new list of benefits and burdens; and changes to our culture, which had not been anticipated. We may learn from this that it is a mistake to suppose that any technological innovation has a one-sided, limited effect (Postman, 1992).

Blessing and Burden

            Technology is a myriad of discoveries that can be akin to Pandora’s box; both good and evil emerge. Society is unable to stop the advancement or progress of either. Postman (1992) states that once the hand of technology is played in society, it does what it was designed to do. A good example of this is the Internet. The Internet was originally designed by the US military as a tool for communication. The original creators could not have foreseen the magnitude and impact that the Internet would have on society. It allows society to build and create new forms of communication and business that is constantly being rediscovered; it also advances social ills like child pornography and gambling. It can create chaos and change culture at the same time. Unforeseen consequences do arrive, and therefore the discoverer is not always the best judge of the good or harm that is a result of an introduction of a new invention in society (Postman, 1992).

Technology Changes our Culture

     Changes the power structure.

Technology produces an elite group that has been given undeserved authority, prestige and power (Postman, 1992). Unfortunately, this power structure is not distributed equally (Postman, 1992). Countries that do not have the capability of developing or using technology fall quickly behind the rest of the world.

Power changes hands without warning and is unpredictable, creating power struggles and shifts. Technology provides the elitists with weapons that only encourage this unbalance of power.

     Influences the masses.

Postman (1992) states the obligatory truth that the medium is the message. The medium and the message are influenced by each other due to the fact that “…embedded in every tool is an ideological bias, a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing over another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another” (Postman, 1992, p, 13). This has the ability to influence the individuals who are receiving the message via the innovative modern medium.

     Changes our lexicon.

Our very language and definitions have been altered by technology. New words have been added to accommodate our new possessions, like ipod, RAM, memory stick, etc. Words are now redefined by the new paradigm in which technology creates.

     Redefines our values.

Technology changes our ideologies, theories, context, ideas of freedom, truth, fact, wisdom, and history (Postman, 1992). It changes our context in that it influences our reference point in society and history. It changes what we think about and how we think about it (Postman, 1992).

Technology challenges our understanding of what is real. “…New technologies change what we meant by ‘knowing’ and ‘truth’; they alter those deeply embedded habits of thought which give to a culture its sense of what the world is like; a sense of what is the natural order of things, of what is reasonable, of what is necessary, of what is inevitable, of what is real” (Postman, 1992, p. 12). When a culture changes the context in which they live, a paradigm shift occurs, influencing the very structure and foundation on which society rests.

     Changes our community.

            Our community is no longer the people who live next door. Our community is the entire world. The very arena in which thought and ideas are developed (Postman, 1992) is impacted by technology. Society is constantly ‘wired’ via e-mail, voicemail, fax, Blackberry, texting, cell phones; keeping us connected to everyone at all the times. It changes our environment, and how we use the tools determines our work places and private spaces.

     Changes our worldview.

Technology promotes a certain worldview; when this view is challenged, an institution feels threatened. When this occurs, a culture feels threatened (Postman, 1992). “…New technologies compete with old ones- for time, for attention, for money, for prestige, but mostly for dominance of their world-view” (Postman, 1992, p.16). Society’s worldview changes according to what we have been exposed to. Therefore, those who control our exposure, also control our views of family, society, ethics, etc.

     Changes us.

How do we process the many megabytes of information that is thrown at us everyday? Information overload, techno-stress, carpal tunnel syndrome, user frustration and technosis are symptoms of our constant changing technological environment. The quantity and quality of information is uncontrolled. Authority of authors and creators are not questioned, challenging us to give authority to those individuals who did not earn it and do not deserve it.


There are many benefits and burdens to technology. It does not add or subtract to our culture, it indeed changes everything (Postman, 1992). Technology has far reaching affects that impacts our culture in varied ways- both positively and negatively. Society can change, adapt and metamorph to accommodate and live with new technology and the innovations and creations that it produces. Or it can allow the degradation of our culture to remnants of a civilized and orderly existence.

Do we have any choice but to surrender to the technology age? Yes, but only if you want to be left behind. 


Ong, Walter. (1982.) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word.   London: Methuen.

Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology.     New York: Vintage Books.

1 comment

1 Clare Roche { 11.28.09 at 6:41 pm }

Your commentary seems to imply we have no option. I wonder if there is a way that we can weigh up the consequences of surrendering as you suggest.

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