Commentary #1: Determined by technology or determined by our actions

Postman’s article, The Judgement of Thamus (Postman, 1993), illustrates how new technologies alter our conception of reality. This transformation is an ecological change. The intrusion of a new technology involves an entire culture and context. It is not possible to control the effects of the imposition/integration of a new technology to a limited sphere of human activity. New technologies alter the character of our symbols and the nature of community, which is the space where our thoughts emerge, develop and deliver.

The interference of a new technology in a culture has benefits and drawbacks (Postman, 1993). This idea has also been proposed by Barry Jones (1995), who sustain that transformations imposed by new technologies has equal rates of positive and negative effects according to the way it is used. In this emergence of benefits and drawbacks, it is not always clear who gains most and who loses most.

According to Postman, within the integration of any technology there is an ideological bias to understand what is real. Murphy & Potts (2003) argue that technologies may be used in a number of ways; it is the way in which technologies are used what alter us. Technological change implies a transformation of our conception of reality. Today we are challenged to know how computers are altering our conception of learning, and how, in combination with other technologies the old idea of school is transforming. The digitalization of our culture brings huge amount of information processed and manipulated in a short rate of time, and the speed and flexibility in which this data is compressed and distributed through information networks (Murphy & Potts 2003). If the latter applies to every aspect of our lives, it applies to our conception of education. Postman reflections regarding to the transformation of our world-view due to changing technologies lead me to conclude that it is the use that we give to a new technology what will alter our way of thinking. Therefore, we are constantly challenged to discover how we will alter our way of living. As educators we should try to be conscious about the way in which these changes will alter our conception about education.

On his chapter, Some Psychodinamics of Orality, Ong (1982) defines oral cultures by describing how they are structured in speech, thought, memory and lifestyle. According to Ong (1982) primary oral cultures conceive words as sounds because they do not have any visual representation for them. As words are sounds and have no visual component, they cannot think of words as signs. As sounds, words exist only when they are going out of existence. Oral memory, then, is tightly engaged to the body, to gestures and “other bodily activities such as rocking back and forth or dancing” (Ong, 1982, p. 67). Oral communities conceive language as a mode of action. They limit words to sounds and develop forms of expressions and thinking that differ from those of literate cultures. Oral cultures can only recall through communication mnemonics and formulas (e.g. proverbs), verbatim, songs, and oral poetry. They always engage memory with the body. Literate cultures recall ideas by writing them down and later finding them on text.

Oral lifestyle is related to more communal and externalized ways of living. They tell the stories of heroes to activate and preserve knowledge. Through the spoken word, sound unifies humans into groups. This interiorizing force not only unifies a community but also relates their ways of living to the sacral.

Ong’s statements about oral communities and their differences on their way of thinking and expressing from literate cultures made me wonder how these transformations are going to take place in the future. According to Ong (1982), text has changed our way of thinking and our relation with information and knowledge. It seems that new technologies cause profound changes in how society interacts and exists. But I think it is not the technology but the way in which we use it what alter our way of thinking and, perhaps, living (Murphy & Potts, 2003). According to Angela Thomas (2007) new generations of learners are using digital as well as print-based literacies to play agentive roles in diverse aspects of human life (e.g., learning spaces, social networking) transforming into active members of a new writing community. Therefore, new literacies and narratives are demanding educators to critically engage with and develop activities around media that are central to students’ life.

New technologies are increasingly and rapidly emerging in the world. This fact makes me wonder if these changes are provoking a constant transformation of our way of thinking and living to the point that we will not be able to handle. One example of this is relate to the way in which we publish text. Virtual libraries and eBooks are emerging in today’s market. Printed books and issues related to Intellectual Property (IP) might be at stake. James O’Donnell argues that virtual library comes forward because it promises a future where users can have access to large amount of information at any place and time. We are facing a stage of transformation were these institutions are at risk. The forms of organization of knowledge in electronic media sharply disresemble those traditional codex books. The community related to the traditional libraries (were there where more readers than publishers) is growing: there will be as many publishers as readers. Postman (1993) sustains that all technologies bring both benefits and drawbacks. According to O’Donnell we must think critically about the emergence of these new forms of writing and publishing. We must think about how to rate and classify the amount of content that can be published and who is really qualified to publish. According Murphy & Potts (2003) technological change challenges different issues such as IP and authorship. For reasons like this, we must keep wondering and thinking critically on the effects of these changes and our actions in our society.


Jones, B. (1995). Sleepers, Wake! Technology and the Future of Work Australia: Oxford University Press.

Murphy & Potts (2003), Culture and Technology. New York: Palgrave Macmillann

O’Donnell, J. The Virtual Library, An Idea Whose Time Has Passed. Retrieved 12 September 2011, from

Postman, N (1993). The Judgement of Thamus.  In N. Postman. Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology (pp. 3-20). New York: Vintage.

Thomas, A (2007). Blurring and Breaking through the Boundaries of Narrative, Literacy, and Identity in Adolescent Fan Fiction. In: Knobel, M. Lankshear, C (eds). A new literacies Sampler. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

This entry was posted in Commentary 1 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply