I am a bit of a Luddite (someone resistant to new technologies), and I’m fascinated with how each technology changes how people think and communicate. Following is a quote from Neil Postman, who has seriously considered this question. It’s from his 1992 book “Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology,” which I’d recommend. The book considers the (mostly negative) ways that Mr. Postman sees technology changing American culture, and ends with this manifesto.
Those who resist the American Technopoly are people:
- who pay no attention to a poll unless they know what questions were asked, and why;
- who refuse to accept efficiency as the pre-eminent goal of human relations;
- who have freed themselves from the belief in the magical power of numbers and do not regard calculations as an adequate substitute for judgement or precision as a substitute or synonym for truth;
- who are, at least, suspicious of the idea of progress, and who do not confuse information with understanding;
- who do not regard the aged as irrelevant;
- who take seriously the meaning of family loyalty and honor;
- who take the great narratives of religion seriously and do not believe that science is the only system of thought capable of producing truth;
- who know the difference between the sacred and the profane, and who do not wink at tradition for modernity’s sake;
- who admire technological ingenuity but do not think it represents the highest possible form of human achievement.
I think of Postman every time I see a TV/car/camera add promising to improve my life, or open up a whole new world of sensory bliss, or make me a new person. I’d also recommend his “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which argues that television is at its worst when it presents serious subjects. He has nothing wrong with stupid TV shows, but he thinks that putting politics, religion, and news on the television changes and cheapens how we understand them. I love this guy. Can you tell?