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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.