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Analytical Book Summaries for Creative Professionals

Here I publish concise summaries and analysis of books that focus on optimizing your life and living more intentionally. Written by Matt C Reynolds.

 

Analytical Book Summaries for Creative Professionals

Here I publish concise summaries and analysis of books that focus on optimizing your life and living more intentionally.

Browse by category: Art & Architecture, Creativity & Habits, Design & Typography, Fiction & Literature, Landscape & Memory, Technology & Society or View All

 
 

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture by Neil Postman

 
Get your own copy of    Technopoly   .

Get your own copy of Technopoly.

 
 

The Book in Three Sentences

Technological change is ecological, one significant change generates total change (new technology does not add or subtract, it changes everything). Nostalgia reminds us of what can be done without computers, but it is essential to consider what is lost when we do use them. As Postman states, “Our youth must be shown that not all worthwhile things are instantly accessible and that there are levels of sensibility unknown to them.”

Notes on the Book

Published in 1992, the majority of this book has stood the test of time. While there are some areas where it appears dated, the framework for critique of new technology remains sound. The book outlines a compelling historical analysis of our relationship to technology and its influences on education.

Favourite Passages and Quotes

Technological Change

Radical technologies create definitions of old terms, and that process takes place without being fully conscious of it. New things require new words, however new things also modify old words, words that have deep-rooted meanings. Lexicographers hold no plebiscites on the matter. No manuals are written to explain what is happening, and the schools are oblivious to it. The old words look the same, and used in the same kinds of sentences. But they do not have the same meanings; in some cases, they have opposite meanings. This is what Thamus wished to teach us: that technology imperiously commandeers our most important technology. (p8)

Technology creates new conceptions of what is real and in the process undermines older conceptions. For example, the seemingly harmless practice of assigning marks or grades to the answers students give on examinations: this procedure seems so natural to most we hardly give any thought its significance, much like technology. (pp12)

Technological change is ecological—one significant change generates total change. For example, if you remove a caterpillar from a given habitat, you are not left with the same environment minus the caterpillars: you have a new environment; the same is true if you add caterpillars to an environment that had none. Likewise, new technology does not add or subtract, it changes everything. In the year 1500, fifty years after the printing press was invented, we did not have the old Europe plus the printing press—we had a different Europe. (p18)

Alfred North Whitehead summed it up best when he remarked that the greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the idea of invention itself. The idea that if something could be done, it should be done was born in the nineteenth century. Not everyone agreed. Matthew Arnold warned that faith in machinery was mankind’s greatest menace, and Carlyle, Ruskin, and Morris rallied against the spiritual degradation brought on by industrial process. (p42)

Technopoly-Inside.jpg

Education & Information

School is a mechanism for information control. A college catalog lists courses, subjects, and fields of study that, taken together, amount to a certified statement of what a serious student ought to think about. Or, we learn from what is omitted from a catalogue what a serious student ought not to think about. (p74)

It is important to remember what can be done without computers, and it is also important to remind ourselves of what may be lost when we do use them. (p120)

The way in which we present information matters. For example: two priests write the pope to ask if it is permissible to smoke and pray at the same time. The first asks “Is it permissible to smoke while praying?” and receives a resounding “no” as praying should be the focus of one’s whole attention. However, the priest asks, “Is it permissible to pray while smoking?” and receives a resounding yes, given “it is always appropriate to pray.” (p126)

The introduction of the “zero” to Roman abacists in the thirteenth century was shocking, as Roman numerals were not exactly designed for calculations. The very idea of a zero—symbolizing the absence of a power of ten—was philosophically strange. The zero affects the values of numerals wherever it occurs, but holds no value in itself. It was the introduction of the Hindu numbering systems that gave way to new technological advances, especially statistics. (p127–8)

The first instance of grading students’ papers occurred at Cambridge University in 1792 at the suggestion of a tutor named William Farish. While he is largely unknown, the idea that a quantitative value should be assigned to human thoughts was a major step toward constructing a mathematical concept of reality. If a number can be given to thought, then can a number be given to the qualities of mercy, love, hate, beauty, creativity, intelligence, or even sanity itself? (pp13)

Neil postman has a radical position on the discipline of Social Science: “Unlike science, social research never discovers anything. It only rediscovers what people once were told and need to be told again…. If the medium is the message, it was not Marshall McLuhan who discovered it.” (p157)

Neil postman also has a strong position on incorporating history into every aspect of life. He quotes Cicero “What is human life worth unless it is incorporated into the lives of one’s ancestors and set in an historical context?” He proposes two things:

  1. I recommend that every subject be taught as history. This way, children understand that knowledge is not a fixed thing, but rather a stage in human development.

  2. If every subject is taught with a historical dimension, then the history teacher is free to teach what histories are: hypotheses and theories about why change occurs. “There is no definitive history of anything; there are only histories, human interventions which do not give us the answer, but give us only those answers called forth by the questions that have been asked. (p190)

“Our youth must be shown that not all worthwhile things are instantly accessible and that there are levels of sensibility unknown to them”. (p197)