Technology is simultaneously a boon and a burden to the world. It tucks life into more convenient packaging. It reduces the need for social interaction. I can think of a multitude of ways technology has imposed upon the various cultures of the world. It is useful to reflect upon the idea of technopolies [as defined by Neil Postman], and technology [as an order of nature], so that I might begin to understand and come to terms with the implications of these realities.
A technopoly is, in essence, a society ruled by technology. It exists as a separation of moral and intellectual values. It is composed of distinct, functional aspects that enable greater comfort and convenience. It is defined by the advancement of tool-using cultures transforming the way in which societies operate. Technology destabilizes our notion of certain "truths" by permitting access into portals of information that were once immensely difficult, if not impossible, to penetrate. Television, radio, print media, and the internet immediately come to mind as examples of how our perceptions of the world are constantly challenged through exposure to alternative ideas. Postman declares, "Surrounding every technology are institutions whose organization--not to mention their reason for being--reflects the world-view promoted by technology. Therefore, when an old technology is assaulted by a new one, institutions are threatened. When institutions are threatened, a culture finds itself in crisis."
[Early technology :: the printing press]
Postman also speaks of technology as a process of integration and differentiation, requiring a new system to promote social equity. Any given culture must learn to adapt to new environments brought about through technological advancement, lest they become further removed from society. He postulates, "There is a calculus of technological change that requires a measure of even-handedness." This sentiment portrays his assessment that technopolies function as ecosystems, and any adjustment to an entity within it affects the entire ecosystem. Such events create cultural upset. A society that introduces any new technology into the cultural mechanisms of a group creates a divide between those who can afford to use the technology and those who cannot or whose beliefs will not allow them to use it. An example of this is the immense transformation of communication and knowledge transfer that occurred with the invention of computers. Even as I compose this blog entry, I am reminded of how far removed I have become from the ink and paper of my pre-internet days. I am largely a product of the culture in which I was raised, and while I recognize the same social tendencies in my peers, I can't help but feel disturbed by them.
Postman observes how cultural ideals are peddled to us by an industry that seeks to control that culture, often for self-serving purposes. He states, "As for change brought on by technology, this native optimism is exploited by entrepreneurs, who work hard to infuse the population with a unity of improbable hope, for they know that it is economically unwise to reveal the price to be paid for technological change. One might say, then, that, if there is a conspiracy of any kind, it is that of a culture conspiring against itself." As such, mass-media conditioning of a technocracy renders it subject to entrapment by means of its own devices. A stellar example of this is the recent string of violence that occured with the release of PlayStation 3. It is rather astonishing that people would wait in line outdoors for hours waiting to purchase a video game console.
[Technology of entertainment]
The stampedes of impatient consumers trampling fellow shoppers for possesion of the latest piece of flashy equipment exquisitely reflects how powerful a grip technology holds on our society.
A certain mindset exists in many cultures today that technology is the answer to the world's most urgent issues. Some people living in developing countries must face difficult living conditions due to lack of money, education or other resources. A recent philanthropic project seeks to address this by creating affordable laptop computers for the world's poorest children.
[From laptop.org...the $100 laptop]
The project, called "One Laptop per Child," is a nonprofit program developed at MIT to provide energy-efficient computer and internet technology to children of families who otherwise could not afford it. Problems are likely to appear in the pilot stage of the program, and will have to be resolved before the computers are distributed to more countries. The idea that computers are crucial educational tools and should be distributed throughout all cultures exemplifies the technocratic view that a society cannot function optimally without technology.
Comedic guest lecturer (or technophile, as Postman would probably describe him) Lance Lavine presented the idea of technology as an order of nature. After I took some time out to think about what he spoke of in class, and the images he used, it started making sense. Simply put, organisms evolve. Each organism uses its own set of tools to enable the continuity of its species. This can be as simple as certain insects developing specialized mandibles to capture prey, or as complex as humans developing specialized medical equipment to perform open heart surgery. As the knowledge and experience of a species increases, the complexity of the tools used by them increases. The concept of survival of the fittest comes into play here. Where technology is concerned, the advantage lies in creating the most accomodating provisions.
Lavine spoke of the "rooted order of the earth" and explained how building columns resist gravity to give us structure, and how regular placement of columns provide a frame and the notion of permanence. He spoke of sunlight "gathering all things into the human domain." By turning buildings upside down & inside out, he showed how technology is a process of human evolution. He used Gaudi's buildings as analogues of gravity, and Center Pompidou's externalized mechanics as a metaphor of the building itself. By using these examples, he demonstrates how technology is a natural extension of human thought. As our tools become more complex, so, too, does our craft.
Both Postman and Lavine have explored the nature of technology and expressed very different, yet equally valid opinions about it. I don't expect I will resolve my love/hate relationship with it anytime soon. I generally hold a more pessimistic attitude towards technology, but I will usually succumb to its offerings once I have fallen sufficiently behind my peers. It is crucial for us to consider Postman's view so that we can try to see technology as a powerful agent of change. If we abuse the power it brings, we will have to deal with every consequence. Likewise, if we take Lavine's point of view, we can use technology to create a better life for ourselves and others. Popular sentiment seems to be the sum of both points of view.