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Technopolies

The idea of the Technopoly, of a society that is run by technology, is a very interesting and relevant view. We live in a society and in a world that is determined by technology. Many people believe that they cannot in fact live without their technological luxuries. They "must" have all of the newest versions and must be on the cutting edge of what is available. I certainly do not understand why many people feel so strongly in this conviction, but its effects are undeniable. A most recent example is that of the new PS3. This newest gaming system is the center of much attention and people are willing to go to great lengths to get theirs now -- there are even incidents of people beating fellow shoppers in order to purchase this latest technology for themselves. The materialism of our age and society as shown by this behavior both amazes and saddens me.

As Neil postman points out in his “Technopoly,� technology has both positive and negative effects and it is vital to see and try to understand both. It plays out in both the big and small scale and can severely alter a culture or society. It does indeed change everything. I have always been one to take a more negative and skeptical view of technology. I was fondly called a Luddite by some of my friends in high school, referring to those whose strong protests of the Industrial Revolution led them to smash and destroy textile machines in order to impede progress; they were anti-technology. Though I have similar views, I also cannot deny the usefulness and immediate presence of technology in my life. Indeed, I have and use many modern technologies of our society and would have a hard time giving many of them up. But I also truly enjoy a simpler life that is not so cluttered with technology. I love going to places where I can relax and live without TV, without computers, without phones. But I still have and use and enjoy all of these things at my home.

It is important to be aware and be wary of technology. Postmen defines our Technopoly as the surrender of culture to technology. I think this view is accurate. We are so entrenched in our technologies that they not only run our individual and daily lives but also greater cultural values and evolution. The presence and power of technology can be seen in our everyday lives; just watch students as they come streaming out of a class. Invariably, almost everyone begins by pulling a cell phone out to see if they have missed any calls or to make a call, before they have even reached the sidewalk. Our lives are very precisely regimented by our technology and our conception of time. Events and meetings are expected to start and end at precise times, and we get easily upset if something or someone is more than a few minutes late, let alone the disaster of being close to an hour behind schedule. We cannot walk without continually making the motion of twisting our wrist around in order to assure us of our place in time so that we can know with greater certainty how we are doing in the grand scheme of time.

Technology distorts our view of reality. Not only does time become a precisely measured and incremented regimented, but our conception of distance is also altered. Geographical distance is not nearly as important to us as cultural and technological distance. We can talk instantly to anyone anywhere in the world at any moment so long as they have a similar technology as us. We can even travel great distances with relative ease. As a result, our world is very large. While people once were limited in their interactions to those people and places that could be reached on foot or on horseback, now there is no limit to how far we can reach. I now live over 2000 miles from where I grew up. I have friends and strong personal connections to places that are all over this country and in other continents as well. My idea of home has greatly evolved because I can no longer find any one geographical place completely satisfying. I have a connection to many different places and cannot be in all of them simultaneously. Neither can I be with all those who I care about and love at the same time, because they too are moving about the world. With technology we have broken down geographical barriers.

What now limits our reach on the world is technology. We cannot understand or truly connect with places which are not technopolies or which use different technology. For example, while I was studying abroad in Venezuela, my conception of time, space, and technology greatly changed. There was internet and telephones there, but they were not as readily accessible or reliable as we have here. I could not be instantly connected to “home� at any point in time for any length of time. There were restrictions that were beyond my control and often beyond my understanding. I found this very frustrating at times, because it was so different from what I was used to and came to unconsciously expect. The conception of time was also very different there. Time was much less regimented and taken much less seriously there than it is here. 8 o’clock could mean any time between 8 and 11. You just had to be patient and wait and understand that if something was set up it may or may not happen and the timing was very loose. This was partly due to their value of human interaction. If you were with someone, it would be extremely rude to cut them off and excuse yourself to go meet with someone else; they wouldn’t think of it. Where you were in the present, not where you were supposed to be, always took precedence. Their culture and values were not all run and determined by technology.