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Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Vintage) [Paperback]

By Neil Postman (Author)
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Item description for Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Vintage) by Neil Postman...

A social critic argues that the United States has become a "technopoly"--a system that sacrifices social institutions for self-perpetuating technological advancement--and suggests ways to use technical skills to enhance our democracy

Publishers Description
In this witty, often terrifying work of cultural criticism, the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death chronicles our transformation into a Technopoly: a society that no longer merely uses technology as a support system but instead is shaped by it--with radical consequences for the meanings of politics, art, education, intelligence, and truth.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Vintage) by Neil Postman has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 144
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/1993 page 116
  • Publishers Weekly - 03/01/1993
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 117

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Vintage
Pages   222
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5" Height: 5.5"
Weight:   0.6 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 31, 1993
Publisher   Vintage
ISBN  0679745408  
ISBN13  9780679745402  

Availability  33 units.
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More About Neil Postman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Neil Postman (1931 2003) was chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at New York University and founder of its Media Ecology program. He wrote more than twenty books."

Neil Postman currently resides in New York City, in the state of New York.

Neil Postman has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Delta Book

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > General
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Sociology > General
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Sociology > Social Theory
4Books > Subjects > Science > Technology > General & Reference
5Books > Subjects > Science > Technology

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Reviews - What do customers think about Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Vintage)?

Introduction to technoreactionism  Apr 18, 2008
Written in a somewhat angry spirit, this book is one of many that have appeared in recent years that could with fairness be labeled as "technoreactionary". These books lament the current state of technology and believe it to be "alienating' and socially disruptive. They do not want to eliminate technology, but instead put it in its "proper place", with the latter not really being defined, but with the implicit connotation being clear: technology has run rampant over traditional worldviews and has become very unhealthy for the human condition.

According to the author cultures can be classified into three types, and all are represented in the modern world. The first type is called tool making and was the predominant culture up until the seventeenth century. One can still find tool-making cultures in isolated parts of the world, and the author invites the reader to seek them out. The second type is referred to as a "technocracy", wherein the old tool making culture is retained to some degree but where technology is beginning to be pursued for its own sake, with its social impact essentially ignored and its dynamic manifesting itself in bureaucracies. The third type is the "technopoly", which is not defined explicitly but instead is characterized by its uncritical acceptance by the culture that practices it.

American culture is a technopoly writes the author, and is the sole example at the present time. He gives several reasons why it became one. It first had to pass through the `technocratic' stage, this occurring somewhere along the time of the publication of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, whose ideas gave credence to the need for "impersonal, large-scale" production. Humans were then reduced to being "barterers" and "wealth seekers." Machines were invented to make machines, and inventing became the predominant pastime, with no cognizance taken of why invention should take place. Humans became not children of God but "consumers", all subject to the ups and downs of the marketplace. But then America morphed into a "technopoly," with its emphasis on scientific management, the replacement of human judgment with calculation, and meaning in social life is only to be found in the context of "machinery and technique." But for America to become a technopoly also required an "improbable world", which is characterized by an uncritical acceptance of the authority of science and a lack of what he calls an "information immune system" that will allow effective filtering of extraneous information and provide worldviews and narratives that give societies coherence and meaning.

Because of his aversion for change, and his willingness to accept myths and other cultural narratives for their ability to maintain social cohesiveness, the author follows the conservative political tradition. He complains of the tendency of technocracy/technopoly to negate the past or even turn its back on it, disrespecting traditions and supplanting them with new but very ephemeral ones. The "continuity" of family life and regional traditions are to be discarded, not because they are immoral necessarily but because they are superfluous. In a technopoly one for example does not pray for relief from disease; one uses penicillin. One does not set down roots: being mobile is the predominant lifestyle.

But it is the scientific worldview that makes modern society appear so alien to the author and to many people at the present time. Since discoveries are occurring so fast, this worldview can take on the appearance of being too "conceptually permissive." The author gives examples in his treatment of the "improbable world." But science is now giving interpretations to notions that were just a decade ago considered "off limits" to scientific investigation. For example, its view of romantic love has its origin in various chemical/neuronal processes in the brain. And then there is genetic engineering, particularly in its use of transgenic technologies, which has allowed a much more extended notion of species. A goat can take on the genes of a spider and produce silk for example, allowing spiders and goat to be related by deliberate technological intervention. And genetics of course has shown just how similar humans are to other life forms, and how easy it might be to alter human genetics to make humans even more similar to these life forms.

But the author never gives a convincing argument as to why a technopoly is unhealthy or alienating, and there are many readers that will demand he speak for himself when he makes commentary on the alienating and dominating influence of technology. Such readers, and this reviewer is one of them, find life in the modern world very exciting and meaningful. We are proud apologists for scientism and technology. We deify it and we are drunk with it, but we never get a hangover from its contemplation and indulging ourselves in it. And we will not hesitate, not for a second, in continuing to push forward its frontiers with new discoveries and new applications. And when one technology is found to be dangerous or threatening, we will work incessantly in finding another one to negate these dangers. And yes, from a particular point of view we do surrender ourselves to technology, but not from the love of domination.

It is our curiosity that we surrender to: we do not interrupt its flow and we deliberately and unashamedly move across boundaries in order to understand and explore new frontiers. No idea, no conception, and no invention is considered to be off limits, and we take delight in the disturbance of cognitive equilibrium. We worship creativity, ingenuity, and the smashing of old tablets. Our heroes are scientists, inventors, and technicians. Our morning coffee is the perusal of patent applications and preprint servers. We only feel envy when we think of future generations, when contemplating their immersion in technologies not yet envisaged. And life in the modern world is utopia for us: we feel privileged to be able to participate in this maelstrom of discovery, in this intoxicating technopoly called the twenty-first century.
Tool users, technocracies, and technopolies  Nov 27, 2007
A well reasoned assault on the modern embrace of technology for its own sake, this book delivers a somber message. Cultures without an organizing belief system tend to collapse, and our instantized consumer society is extremely good at dispensing with belief in anything beyond dollars and cents. Postman sorts history into three bins: tool users, technocracies, and technopolies. The first is self explanatory, and tool use becomes a technocracy when machines become pervasive enough to require bureaucracies to manage their use. But the goal remains the same -- improvement of the human condition. The next stage is reached when preservation and expansion of technology becomes paramount -- often at the expense of human well being. Technological change becomes valued for its own sake, regardless of the impact -- in fact, the impact is no longer weighed. A simple example: connecting every school in America to the internet is deemed good and perhaps inevitable without any proof whatever that computers or interconnection benefits students or education. (My question: If we build it, will they numb?) Postman's practical suggestion is that we re-think education goals. While admitting that schools alone cannot end technopoly, he suggests that we can create a generation of loving resistance fighters. That is, citizens who understand that history is really "histories," reinterpreted in each age; that language matters, with particular attention to semantics; that every technology, from language to microelectronics, comes with a bias and causes effects both intended and not, both visible and hidden. Education, he insists, is not about job skills, it is about thinking. As an organizing principal Postman offers Jacob Bronowski's theme in THE ASCENT OF MAN (Little Brown & Co, 1976), the story of humanity from its origins, with all of the brilliance, pain, victory, struggle and understanding that make us who we are. An excellent, excellent book.
Guns Blazing  Oct 27, 2007
In his book, Conscientous Objections, Postman considers the question, "Why are books so long?" concluding that they don't have to be, and then gives a synopsis of Amusing Ourselves to Death, his most famous work. That book, like this book, is well worth reading, but this book could benefit from the same treatment. I could quote numerous long passages in this review, but instead I'll just give the once over lightly version, and the synopsis will have to wait.

The basic idea is that cultures start as tool using cultures, then move into Technocracies, which is to say, become dependent on technology, and then, if they are the US, become a Technopoly, where any other world view, including the two previously named, gets short shrift. Clearly this is the US in a nutshell. However, the second stage, Technocracy (and he only calls it that a few times) needs a bit more elaboration.

Technology is a clunky word, unlike the elegant, simple Latin names in most of the sciences. What Postman means is closer to Jacques Ellul's idea of technique in The Technological Society. That idea is that we invent a technique for some end (the Ford assembly line comes to mind), and then must conform to that technique to achieve that end (which seems obvious), and then become essentially enslaved to the technique.

Maybe that even seems obvious. Anyway, in the chapter, The Loving Resistance Fighter, Postman gives his rather surprising suggestions, which he doesn't see as a solution but as a course of action. Since he's written so much about it, once again he calls for a revolution in education. The sorts of courses he wants include comparative religions, semantics, and something like philosophy of science. So the next surprise for me was to realize I had a profoundly Postmanian education, and the effect was to render me, long after the fact, grateful for those visionary teachers.

The worst written (I don't know why) chapter is on sociology, but here he makes some of the best points. The need to use clunky words like technology all the time makes this book somewhat dense and confusing. However, Neil offers a great many lucid summaries and I found myself laughing aloud at some parts. I think this may have been one of his last books; I only heard him speak once in, I think, the '90s, and he left us soon after. But not before leaving this parting gift.
basic book  Aug 3, 2007
its a must read - even for those who would not agree that technology destroys culture. dangers are real and it is worth following the author on what they are.but technology has changed life - and not always for the worse. like climate change we dont want the scare but the reality need to be known - and thats where the importance of the book lies.
A little too preachy, and irresolute at the same time  Jan 13, 2007
"Back when men were bolder, and women were prettier, etc." Every generation has probably heard various versions of this kind of "it's getting worse" story. Postman names all through this book the alternatives modern life gives us when a new technology comes along. Of course this happens. The automobile took away the chance to let neighbors chat when buggying down the dirt roads, their horses lazily nibbling the grass as the time passed. But the horse buggy took away an earlier "pleasure" at the expense of the improved technology of the buggy. All this seems very obvious, and the author uses an urbane, Time-Magazine style of prose to dance around these technology-finally-creates-Technoply talks. One wonders if the creator of fire caused the first humans to not enjoy the pleasure of shivering any more.

There is truth in what the author is saying, of course, and the reader will certainly be a little more sensitized to a deflavoring of culture because of progress. Admittedly, this "urbane writing style" makes an easily-readable work, and it is a plus not having to wade through a long, strident sermon. Also, Postman gives the Left a deserved kick in the shin regarding their forgiving memory of Joseph Stalin, and their often-observed intolerance for other views.

Maybe there were just too many topics to talk about in this book. An earlier work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, is much more focused, making the author's argument easier to see. Both books can be read quickly, though, and most readers will enjoy the many facts about the origins of things which Postman sprinkles through the book.

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