NEIL POSTMAN’S TECHNOPOLY has been a slow-go for me, although I think I’ve had it for about a year. It’s hard reading a fully-valid cultural critique of your industry (and your quarter-century career arc) that was written before your industry or the possibility of your career arc existed. To say Postman was a prophet is an understatement. When I was working at the Seabury Bookstore in NYC, I wish someone had come to my cash register with this. If I had rung Postman up twice at my register at the same time I was learning about email, I might have noticed. So I don’t have a review so much as a recognition that I have not been in the “Loving Resistance”, as he calls it.
Although Bishop Barron has a few comments on another Postman work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, this work seems not to have hit the radar over at Word on Fire, although I may be wrong. It would, perhaps, be seen as a critique of the whole idea of evangelism via the internet and how gleefully we give ourselves up to the mercy of the Algorithm in the hopes of gaining one convert who is not worse than we are.
Rather than a review or even response, by way of capitulation, here’s an extended quote from the final chapter. It really is a description of a proper reaction to everything the internet has become since Postman died.
By “loving,” I mean that, in spite of the confusion, errors, and stupidities you see around you, you must always keep close to your heart the narratives and symbols that once made the United States the hope of the world and that may yet have enough vitality to do so again. . . . Which brings me to the “resistance fighter” part of my principle.
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 powers of numbers, do not regard calculation as an adequate substitute for judgment, or precision as a synonym for truth;
- who refuse to allow psychology or any “social science” to pre-empt the language and thought of common sense;
- 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, and who, when they “reach out and touch someone,” expect that person to be in the same room;
- who take the great narratives of religion seriously and who 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.
A resistance fighter understands that technology must never be accepted as part of the natural order of things, that every technology—from an IQ test to an automobile to a television set to a computer—is a product of a particular economic and political context and carries with it a program, an agenda, and a philosophy that may or may not be life-enhancing and that therefore require scrutiny, criticism, and control. In short, a technological resistance fighter maintains an epistemological and psychic distance from any technology, so that it always appears somewhat strange, never inevitable, never natural.
From Chapter 11 of Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman