TECHNOPOLY: THE SURRENDER OF CULTURE TO TECHNOLOGY is a book by Neil Postman published in 1992 that describes the development and characteristics of a "technopoly". He defines a technopoly as a society in which technology is deified, meaning “the culture seeks its authorisation in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology”. It is characterised by a surplus of information generated by technology, which technological tools are in turn employed to cope with, in order to provide direction and purpose for society and individuals.
Postman considers technopoly to be the most recent of three kinds of cultures distinguished by shifts in their attitude towards technology – tool-using cultures, technocracies, and technopolies. Each, he says, is produced by the emergence of new technologies that "compete with old ones…mostly for dominance of their worldviews".
* 1 Tool-using culture
* 2 Technocracy
* 2.1 Values of "technological theology" * 2.2 Consequences of technopoly
* 3 Criticism of
* 3.1 Technological determinism * 3.2 Values * 3.3 Science and ideology * 3.4 Persistence of old world ideologies
* 4 Reviews * 5 See also
* 6 Notes
* 6.1 References
* 7 External links
According to Postman, a tool-using culture employs technologies only to solve physical problems, as spears, cooking utensils, and water mills do, and to "serve the symbolic world" of religion , art , politics and tradition , as tools used to construct cathedrals do. He claims that all such cultures are either theocratic or "unified by some metaphysical theory", which forced tools to operate within the bounds of a controlling ideology and made it "almost impossible for technics to subordinate people to its own needs".
In a technocracy, rather than existing in harmony with a theocratic world-view, tools are central to the "thought-world" of the culture. Postman claims that tools "attack culture… bid to become culture", subordinating existing traditions, politics, and religions. Postman cites the example of the telescope destroying the Judeo-Christian belief that the Earth is the centre of the solar system , bringing about a "collapse…of the moral centre of gravity in the West".
Postman characterises a technocracy as compelled by the "impulse to
invent", an ideology first advocated by
However, a technocratic society remains loosely controlled by social and religious traditions, he clarifies. For instance, he states that the United States remained bound to notions of "holy men and sin, grandmothers and families, regional loyalties and two-thousand-year-old traditions" at the time of its founding.
Postman defines technopoly as a "totalitarian technocracy", which
demands the "submission of all forms of cultural life to the
sovereignty of technique and technology". Echoing Ellul’s 1964
conceptualisation of technology as autonomous, "self-determinative"
independently of human action, and undirected in its growth,
technology in a time of
This is exemplified, in Postman’s view, by the computer, the "quintessential, incomparable, near-perfect" technology for a technopoly. It establishes sovereignty over all areas of human experience based on the claim that it "'thinks' better than we can".
VALUES OF "TECHNOLOGICAL THEOLOGY"
A technopoly is founded on the belief that technique is superior to lax, ambiguous and complex human thinking and judgement, in keeping with one of Frederick W. Taylor ’s ‘Principles of scientific management’. It values efficiency, precision, and objectivity.
It also relies upon the "elevation of information to a metaphysical status: information as both the means and end of human creativity". The idea of progress is overcome by the goal of obtaining information for its own sake. Therefore, a technopoly is characterised by a lack of a cultural coherence or a "transcendent sense of purpose or meaning".
Postman attributes the origins of technopoly to ‘scientism ’, the
belief held by early social scientists including
CONSEQUENCES OF TECHNOPOLY
Postman refers to
In the U.S. technopoly, excessive faith and trust in technology and
quantification has led to absurdies such as an excess of medical tests
in lieu of a doctor's judgment, treatment-induced illnesses
(‘iatrogenics ’), scoring in beauty contests, and an emphasis on
exact scheduling in academic courses. and the interpretation of
individuals through "invisible technologies" like
A technopoly also trivialises significant cultural and religious symbols through their endless reproduction. Postman echoes Jean Baudrillard in this view, who theorises that "technique as a medium quashes…the ‘message’ of the product (its use value)", since a symbol’s "social finality gets lost in seriality".
CRITICISM OF TECHNOPOLY
Postman's argument stems from the premise that the uses of a
technology are determined by its characteristics – "its functions
follow from its form". This draws on
According to Tiles and Oberdiek , this pessimistic understanding of pervasive technology renders individuals "strangely impotent". David Croteau and William Hoynes criticise such technologically deterministic arguments for underestimating the agency of a technology’s users. Russell Neuman suggests that ordinary people skilfully organise, filter, and skim information, and actively “seek out” information rather than feeling overwhelmed by it.
It has also been argued that technologies are shaped by social factors more so than by their inherent properties. Star suggests that Postman neglects to account for the "actual development, adaptation and regulation of technology".
According to Tiles and Oberdiek, pessimistic accounts of technology overriding culture are based on a particular vision of human values. They emphasise "artistic creativity, intellectual culture, development of interpersonal relations, or religion as being the realms in which human freedom finds expression and in which human fulfilment is to be found". They suggest that technological optimists merely adhere to an alternative worldview that values the "exercise of reason in the service of free will" and the ability of technological developments to "serve human ends".
SCIENCE AND IDEOLOGY
Postman’s characterisation of technology as an ideological being has also been criticised. He refers to the "god" of technopolists speaking of "efficiency, precision, objectivity", and hence eliminating the notions of sin and evil which exist in a separate "moral universe". Stuart Weir argues that technologies are "not ideological beings that take…near-anthropomorphic control of people’s loves, beliefs and aspirations". He in fact suggests that new technologies have had remarkably little effect on pre-existing human beliefs.
PERSISTENCE OF OLD WORLD IDEOLOGIES
Postman speaks of technological change as "ecological…one significant change generates total change". Hence, technopoly brought about by communications technologies must result in a drastic change in the beliefs of a society, such that prior "thought worlds" of ritual, myth, and religion cannot exist. Star conversely argues that new tools may create new environments, but do "not necessarily extinguish older beliefs or the ability to act pragmatically upon them".