Commentary #1- Role of technology in informing and transforming culture

The rapid development of digital technologies and their impact not only on language and literacy issues but on our society in general, prompt us to examine and question the implications of such development in our lives and on our role as educators in facilitating media literacy.  

Postman (1992) addresses some of these issues in his article “Technopoly. The surrender of culture to technology”.

Firstly, the article should be placed in context – it was written in 1992, the same year that the internet exploded in popularity. As a result, the article is like an interesting little time capsule into pre-internet thinking, beliefs and fears. The internet’s rapid growth must have seemed daunting and would certainly have warranted a word like ‘dangerous’ from someone who was a technophobe anyway.  

Postman seems to be concerned that literacy will fall by the wayside while in fact it has continuously evolved. Literacy no longer relates only to written text but to the deciphering of symbols, signs and visual narratives in all forms of media. Semiotics is the new form of literacy and deciphering these signs is often an unconscious act regardless of the level of education.

According to Kellner and Share (2005), “There is expanding recognition that media representations help construct our images and understanding of the world.” (Kellner & Share 2005, p.370)

While it may have been hard to see the subtle nuances at the time, it is evident that technology serves the text as much as the text serves technology and rather than destroying literacy and culture, technology has informed, evolved and transformed them.

Postman’s (1992) other concern is related to oral learning and narrative. While computers and the internet may have seemed like a one-sided, individualistic way of learning in 1992, I do not think the same can be said today.  In fact, with social media, blogs and online educational forums, the opportunities for personal story-telling, interactive learning and dialogue have increased. In 1992 you could have had a discussion in a classroom of 20 people, now you can discuss a topic with a limitless amount of people across the world. This opens learners up to new ideas, geographical and economical contexts and a continuing dialogue that extends beyond the classroom.

Therefore, technology is a ‘conduit’ of culture. Being aware of multiple perspectives is of great advantage because as stated by Kellner and Share (2005) state that “The ability for students to see how diverse people can interpret the same message differently is important for multicultural education, since understanding differences means more than merely tolerating one and other.” (Kellner & Share, 2005, p.375)

Such a process also attests to the democracy of the internet. Social media is very much tuned in to the ‘experience of the masses’. Governments are brought down by everyday people–Wikileaks and uprisings in theMiddle East.

Davis(2011) advises that both educators and students should be aware of “how the tools of technology will facilitate their learning.” (Davis, 2011, p.47).

As educators, we should look at technology as a way to provide the type of support to the students that is as close as possible to the support that we would have provided when working individually with a student.

Another concern that Postman raises is related to pedagogy and didacticism. I do not agree that technologies need to compete in an educational environment (Postman 1992, p.16). Just because an e-book is electronic, does not make it any less of a book or any less successful at fostering literacy or providing information in a logical format.  Books were written to store knowledge – is knowledge at risk of being lost when stored on computers? While paper book sales are still on the rise, eBooks are quickly surpassing the paper book sales.

What is also important to consider is that nowadays, as asserted by Säljö (2010), “Information in the social memory is not just easy to access; it is also searchable and analysable in ways that we have not seen before. (Säljö, 2010, p.61). In fact what computers do is that they take away the autocratic power of the academic. They are no longer the central source of information and knowledge. On the internet, ‘experts’ are abound and with many opposing views – this actually encourages students to question issues rather than take them on without much personal thought or interaction. This process makes education a lot more dynamic.  User generated content forums like Wikipedia allow people to freely express and share their opinions while transcending geographical boundaries. With proliferation of information, we are all experts.

In addition to that, as Säljö (2010) states, “The new media situation entails that we now have access to information from a multitude of sources. We have to be selective and learn to disregard much of what we hear and see. We have to preselect on the basis of interest and relevance”. (Säljö, 2010, p.60).

Consequently, the technology affordances are not simply supporting our learning but also transforming not only how we learn but also how we define and interpret our learning.

With social changes and development of our societies, literacy practices evolve and therefore we expect that through the new digital technologies we should be able to communicate using a variety of methods and strategies including images, sound, video and text and be in a position to gather, analyze and document information more effectively and efficiently than before. As “global citizens”, the new and varied ways of communication should enable us to make more informed decisions about present and future practices and choices as they evolve. 

Kellner and Share (2005) state that “if education is to be relevant to the problems and challenges of contemporary life, engaged teachers must expand the concept of literacy and develop new curricula and pedagogies. (Kellner & Share, 2005, p. 370)

As educators we need to keep abreast of new and evolving literacy practices and assume full responsibility for developing our own ability to use multimedia technologies to address these new developments and reflect them on curricula development and pedagogical approaches.


ComputerHistoryMuseum(2011) Timeline for the Supercomputing 97 Conference Retrieved on September 29, 2011 from:

Davis, R. (2011) Understanding Technology Literacy: A Framework for Evaluating Educational Technology Integration                                                                                     TechTrends September/October 2011. 55 (5) p.45-52

 Kellner, D. & Share, J. (2005) Toward Critical Media Literacy: Core concepts, debates, organizations, and policy                                                                                                                Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education September 2005, 26 (3)  p.369/386    

Postman, N. (1992) Technopoly. The surrender of culture to technology                                 Random House Inc.,New York

Säljö, R. (2010) Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning                                     Journal of Computer Assisted Learning doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00341.x        Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 26, p.53–64


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