Technopoly — the Surrender of Culture to Technology

  • Techniques such as grading or statistical analysis that particularly benefit from gadgets

His Conclusions

  • New technology is unstoppable but that doesn’t mean it has no drawbacks. We love tech so much it inhibits our ability to judge its pros and cons.
  • As a society we focus on things that are objectively measurable (wealth, productivity, GDP, gold medals) because grades play well with our digital tech.
  • Our first thought when solving problems is too often technology — there are many problems in the world where lack of technology or information is not the fundamental issue.
  • We need a vision, a human story arc, a transcendent narrative about humanity and where we’re going, which isn’t just about better gadgets.

My Thoughts

This is more a snapshot than a manifesto. However, I do find Postman’s thoughts very interesting.

  • My heart tells me technology is an unalloyed good, but intellectually I know there are downsides. Pollution is the most obvious one but AI, automation and VR/AR may provide even bigger problems.

The effect of tech on culture

If a lot of our cultural products and activities are designed to be objectively measurable and optimisable, then it’s inevitable we’ll automate them. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

One pastime that humans have been optimised out of

Automation of culture (partial or full)

Will I enjoy Formula 1 when the car would do better without a driver in it? Will we still write novels when AIs can generate good, personalised books?

  • Smartphone cameras didn’t kill photography (in fact, photos now play a bigger role in culture because good work can be generated with less training — creativity is more egalitarian).
  • Recording didn’t kill music (it may have reduced live playing for pleasure, but it made music available to everyone).
  • I’ve already lost all inclination to read physical books — even though I loved them. That means I can’t lend people books anymore so that’s a missing part of my personal culture. That’s a bad thing. On the upside, however, I now read vastly more than I did when I relied on physical books, perhaps because I can get hold of books quicker and carry more of them around. My reading has become tech-enhanced. Again, that feels positive on balance.

My Conclusion

I think Postman’s right and wrong.

  • I think machine-assisted creativity can be homogeneous, but it does allow more new work to be produced and volume throws up genius. Therefore, I believe mass production of culture and reducing the barriers to entry for creativity is a good thing not a bad thing.
  • I suspect Postman (who died over a decade ago) would question our current technocratic leaders’ lack of a big vision, which is leaving the field wide open for crackpot ones.

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