Commentary on, Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.
Thinking about a technological society requires some amount of wariness, no doubt. As humans, we always tend to have the fear of the unknown. The effects of any new technology or invention may not be immediately known. An inventor such as Theuth may have a purpose for inventing a technology but the varied uses it will present later will be unforeseen and consequently; the eventual effect on the society. Thamus rightly responded to Theuth by calling his attention to this fact.
According to Thamus, “the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm it will accrue to those who practice it.” Postman, N (1993, p.4).
In Thamus’ response, it can be deduced that the use of a technology depends on whose hands it is in and how the possessors translate it. The resulting use and effects may not be anything close to what the inventor had in mind and usually far transcends above and beyond the imaginations of the inventor, thus the reasons such inventors have been labelled Technophiles by Postman. There could be a tendency to blame these technophiles for inventions gone wrong but we cannot blame the technophiles for an overly active imagination, infact we dare to extol them for daring to change the way we “see” things. We cannot deny the fact that the technophiles of every culture are change catalysts. In the end, the use of their inventions depends on whose hands it is.
We could suppose that the technophile merely thinks positively about how to “improve” whatever situation or culture he is presented with, the response to his invention however, cannot be determined by him. Thus he must be prepared to accommodate the critics, and skeptics, embracing the promoters of his invention while paying close attention to their comments for further improvement. The irony of it all lies in the possibility that the critic or technophobe that is kicking against the technology will probably use the same technology as a mode or medium to present his argument or disapproval.
A technological invention whose entry is heralded by desires to “get better” will have better chances of acceptance since the circumstances could be said to be favorable. It will be explored and even though met with initial skepticism still finds its way into the fabric of society, daring to infact take it over, so much so that the society begins to conform to the resulting effects of the technology instead of the technology conforming to the society’s way of life. This is what we refer to as change, whether or not it is “for the better” depends on whose hands it is and whose opinion you seek.
“Once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; it does what is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is- that is to say when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes open.” Postman, N. (1993 p.7).
A discovery, invention, tool or techne could mean many different things in different hands. The inventor of the concept may have had a different thing in mind. This usually would be in response to a perceived need. Focusing on “solving” the problem produced by the perceived need. It is unlikely the inventor would be able to actually conceive the potential of the invention until it is placed in the hands of the users. The Theuths’ of society cannot control the eventual or precipitated use of their inventions. As Postman suggested, “it is inescapable that every culture must negotiate with technology, whether it does it intelligently or not.” Postman, N. (1993, p5). It is not the inventors’ job to determine the eventual use of his invention- good or bad it still speaks to the acceptance of the invention, at least in my opinion.
Writing; in the judgment of Thamus is useless-a burden to society but in the hand of Theuth, it is an accomplishment-a sure receipt for memory and wisdom. Theuth would have put in much thought into this particular invention and processed or imagined how it would be used by Egyptians to improve their memory and wisdom. Wearing Theuth’s thinking cap, I suppose his thoughts must have been such that if the thoughts of the renowned wise men of Egypt were written, then every person seeking wisdom could study what has been written and thus would be tapping into the wise minds of these sages of the time, while at the same time adding their own to and improving and building on existing wisdom- much like the information database of today. It is my guess that Theuth being futuristic, in his imagination had seen the future and in his wisdom was creating a bridge connecting orality to literacy, the snag however was that Thamus was short-sighted and did not catch the vision.
I conclude with excerpts from the poem titled “hands.” I think about the poem and liken the irony therin to technophobes and technophiles. It makes me wonder the position I take with technology. Am I the technophobe or technophile? The technophobe in my opinion is the one who sees the “great” potential and so I pledge my support for them.
A golf club is almost useless in my hands.
A golf club in Tiger Wood’s hands is a 4 Major Golf Championship.
A rod in my hands will keep away a wild animal.
A rod in Moses’ hands will part the mighty sea.
A sling shot in my hands is a toy.
A slingshot in David’s hands is a mighty weapon.
Nails in my hands might produce a bird house.
Nails in Christ Jesus’ hands will produce salvation for the entire world.
Hands. Accessed online on Nov 16, 2010 from: http://www.pmchurch.net/HandsPoem.htm
Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage books. New York.