Monday, April 21, 2008


Book Review

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman, Vintage Books, 1993

Thesis: “Technopoly deprives us of the social, political, historical, metaphysical, logical, or spiritual bases for knowing what is beyond belief.” Technopoly’s power emanates from the assumption that all technological advances are to be desired and therefore faith in symbols is counterproductive.

Evaluation: Postman, a sociologist, identified “Technopoly” in anthropomorphic terms, as an unfettered movement – a strongman of sorts – who is engulfing America’s better values, such as religious narratives, and replacing them with an inhumane and mechanistic dystopia. Americans welcome this with an unchallenged lust for technology even at the expense of our culture, heritage and faith. Science is the new alchemy and scientists her priests. Postman’s prophetic analysis from 1992 of Technology’s monopoly over human affairs is obviously more evident today than it was 15 years ago. In fact, the influence of the computer and the Internet are more pervasive and consuming than even that which Postman proposed. Even so, Postman offers an optimistic ethic that would lead to freedom from Technopoly, were we to heed his advice and become “loving resistance fighters” who manage technology rather than those who are managed by technology.

Helpful Insights: “Technopoly” is what Christians would recognize as a “Power” from Colossians 2.15. This particular Power has become especially potent in the United States, because we fail to recognize it and we do not even think to question its influence. Rather than just offer a critique, Postman offers a curriculum that would reunite students with the core narratives of Western culture. Not as a means to elevate Western Civilization above other cultures but as the narrative symbol which relates to the citizens of the United States. This narrative would enable students to become alert humans who know how to reason and question and apply moral standards to their roles as citizens. This approach to education is viewed as antithetical to the minimalist and statistical grind of the Technopoly machine. While Postman is not promoting a particular religion (though his affection for Judaism is evident), he is convinced that society cannot achieve a sense of purpose without such a core narrative to give people meaning. Technopoly cannot provide a core narrative because its end is only to sustain itself, which consumes and does not inspire.

Response: My perception of the public school system in the U.S. is that it is so broken and ideologically corrupt that it cannot be repaired. However, I believe that Postman’s emphasis on the integration of history and the ideals of past cultures, artists, philosophers and musicians into the standard school curriculum is the only viable corrective to our failing public school system, and thereby our failing culture.

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