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November 29, 2006

Technopoly

Neil Postman seems to be quite concerned with the direction of American life. He has even labeled how our society, and other typically “Western� societies live, and that is in a technopoly. This term, at least according to the text provided, is very vague. There is no true definition for the word, so one can only venture a guess, at this point at least, as to what he is referring to and how that is the order of modern life. A technopoly seems to be the natural progression of a Society in regards to the use of tools and technology. He says that there is a taxonomy of cultures in the world today: a tool-using culture, a technocracy, and a technopoly. The use of technology in all three societies is met with varying acceptance and impact. In a tool-using society the concept of technology is done out of necessity, and in many ways in not the key focus of their lives. Postman then said that in a technocracy everything, such as beliefs, religion, customs, must fight for their lives as new tools and technologies attack the culture. In my understanding of this taxonomy, I see that there is a sort of progression of the role that technology plays in society. It starts out of need, and then becomes the objects for which the society begins to focus, disregarding things like politics and religion.

And that evolves into a technopoly, which would be a world in which religion and social morals play no role, and the entire culture is driven by the efficiency of new technologies. Postman even said that new technologies alter the structure of our lives and what we think about. It only seems natural that the progression of this would be to the point where our only sense is technology, no longer social values and traditions, and this final stage is a technopoly. Postman said that America is the leading example of a technopoly, and that it is indeed a scary and unrealized thing. In this context it seems fitting that a technopoly is the use of technology to replace the absence of social traditions and morals.

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There are several examples within the American culture that prove this, but the finest example of the efficiency of technology replacing social morals is looking at the production of large corporations, more specifically the exploitation and outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries. This modern business practice, which is utilized by many “Western Society� corporations, is commonly referred to as “The Race to the Bottom.� In this business model large companies send American production jobs overseas, in order to achieve the lowest overall production cost to create the largest profit margins. This practice not only takes jobs away from Americans and raises unemployment rates; it simultaneously exploits the populations of Third World countries, making it nearly impossible for the poverty stricken nations to ever rise economically.

Life in America is no longer under attack by the presence of new technology, it has gotten to a status where technology has become our lives, and this is what I feel that Neil Postman was illustrating with his term Technopoly. But a look at the taxonomy of societies that he mentioned shows this not as an out-of-place occurrence, but more a natural progression throughout time. And this is where the concept of Technopoly can be seen as order of nature. This current state of technological life is just the latest step in the evolution of man and society. According to Postman this seems to be a process without regression, and what is gradually being lost shows no sign of resurfacing. Many famous philosophers have commented on life in this manner, that what is now lost by our society will not be regained. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Society acquires new arts, and loses old instincts.� This means that for everything we gain something has to be lost. Emerson also wrote “Civilized man has invented a coach, but has lost the use of his feet.� Neil Postman certainly was not the first to comment on the presence of technology in society, but has made it aware to what degree things are lost because of the encroachment of technology.

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We are now at a point in our lives where we can no longer visibly see the presence of traditional American culture. America is now just a conglomeration of various technologies and rituals, all of which are in complete opposition to the concept of a preserved historical culture. We have lost the sense of tradition and traditional values that we used to hold dear. It used to be a privilege in America to vote, and women and minorities had to fight to earn the right to vote. Yet voting in America is reaching new lows, with the majority of the population not even caring enough to cast their vote. In some senses America has followed this course of natural evolution that Postman talked about and has evolved from a strong sense of tradition and interest in religion, to a point where those same social values no longer matter in our lives. And the evolution does not seem to be reversing in our future, we seem destined to be driven by technology to the point where there are no longer independent cultures and societies, just one mass network all revolving around technology.

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Yet I must close with one thought. Before we are ready to admit the idea of technopoly, we have to understand that our world may not be on a slippery slope to the complete disembodiment of culture. The Wachowski brothers wrote “Hume teaches us that no matter how many times you drop a stone and it falls to the floor, you never know what'll happen the next time you drop it. It might fall to the floor, but then again it might float to the ceiling. Past experience never proves the future.� Therefore, how can we be certain that this process is indeed irreversible? How can we say that we won’t suddenly wake up and have a new admiration for tradition and culture and social values? The events of the past do not dictate the future. Everything we know about life and history is but a small part of a much larger existence, and everything we experience may be predestined and insignificant. Then it would not matter whether that we currently do not hold strict traditional values in America, because it will most likely change. And that is something that I feel much better about.

Amor Fati.

November 7, 2006

Design and Math

Nearly every thing that gets designed in some way incorporates mathematics. Nearly everything has some aspect that needs math to overcome an obstacle or opposition. From gravity to the exploitation of materials, everything has involved math in both the design of the end product, as well as the construction process. Nearly any picture of any object could be described in the math that was involved in the design process.

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Stonehenge is a great early example of the math involved in design. The monument in Wiltshire, England shows how mathematics was used in the design process long ago. The creators of Stonehenge needed to not only use mathematics to determine the exact size and placement for the stones, but the long process of getting the stones to the location. Up to 43 of the 4-ton stones were transported from 250 kilometers away, which must have involved a great deal of mathematics to move across the country, which is believed to have been a series of logs to which the stones were rolled across. It is a standing monument to the use of mathematics involved in design.

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The Great Pyramids of Egypt are another standing testament to mathematics involved in the building and design process. It isn't exactly known how the Egyptians moved the giant stones and constructed the pyramids, but it can be said that a great deal of advanced mathematics must have been involved in place of the lack of technology.

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Modern bridges are another great example of the amount of mathematics that is involved in the design process. There are several forces of physics that bridges must be designed to overcome, and these are mathematically computed into the overall design image that the architect or engineer had for the bridge. Not only must the bridge stand against gravity, but it must also handle the load and stress of traffic, as well as the horizontal forces of sheer winds. Not to mention bridges built in disaster areas that must be able to withstand things like earthquakes and hurricanes.

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Similar to bridges, dams are designed based around mathematics in order to withstand the forces that they are subject to. But dams are also unique because of their exploitation of materials. The concrete used is designed specifically to be manipulated into the structure so it can help counteract the forces that the dam is subject to.

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Aviation technology is one field that is as much about mathematics as it is about design. Aviation is solely about the manipulation and control of natural forces and certain properties of physics. The lift needed to get a large airliner off of the ground had to be meticulously calculated, and the aerodynamic properties of the fuselage of aircraft had to designed based on mathematics in order to create the least amount of drag.

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The Bugatti Veyron, or anything in the automotive industry, is another examples of designed following the application of mathematics. Similar to the aviation industry, automotive designer of the Veyron had to design its hull to be as aerodynamic as possible. But the designers also had to counteract the forces of lift, and had to specially designed stabilizer wings for the car to keep it planted to the road during high speed runs, in order to give the car optimal handling at great speeds.

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Finally, my favorite example of mathematics involved in design is the Nike Free. The shoe had set before it a set of parameters that it had to meet, and the shoe designers then had to use math to make the design possible. The designers were given the idea of a shoe that would be as light and flexible as possible, so as to mimic the benefits of running barefoot. The designers then had to create the idea of a shoe that could bend and twist freely, and offer the least amount of resistance to the legs, and therefore be very similar to running barefoot. The design for the sole of the shoe turned out to be a rubber base that was then sliced into small block, which remained connected to, together by a thin piece of rubber. This allowed for the most flexibility while still offering durability and comfort.

So the design process is very much involved in the field of mathematics. It all goes back to the principles of oppositions, and the resolutions to them. Every resolution involves a great deal of math in order to overcome the opposition.