Reviewing Neil Postman’s Technopoly 27 Years Down the Line
At this moment, we’re translating every nuance of existence into binary. Every aspect of our lives systemized, categorized and locked. Impulses inside the circuit, looping endlessly until they degrade. Corrupted data, ‘dead hard-drives’; the fear that something loses existence once there is no longer an electronic record.
We’ve numbed our neurons due to the over-satiated accessibility of electronic culture. Tired of reading this article? Check your smartphone. Forgot something at the grocery? Order it, it’s all there.
Amazon, the same delivery mechanism of a carton of milk, operates 31% of all cloud sharing networks in the world. The CIA, the Department of Defense and the NSA have transferred their surveilled and internal data to that exact cloud. The networked merging of data initiates at the mundane (a purchased lamp on a bedside table) and extends to the monolithic government bureaucracies tucked deep into crevices out of sight.
It’s not much of a surprise if you read Neil Postman books. He laid it all out in 1992’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.
We’ve Become Technopolized
Ever since humans laid the first cable deep under the Atlantic Ocean more than 150 years ago, the drive for instantaneous communication amplifies without bound. What started with the telegraph transmitting at 4 to 6 bits a second, the constraint of a human typing hand, has now expanded to Google laying a transatlantic cable with speeds of 250 terabits a second. As a point of reference 1 terabit is bits. That’s 1 trillion.
Such an incomprehensible drive for data sits as the hair-flying-to-the-wind passenger on the speed boat of capitalist expansion. The accelerated technological development of humanity has mirrored the expansion of the US as the capitalist empire. In the words of Neil Postman, this led to the creation of the first technopolic state.
Technopoly, in other words, is totalitarian technocracy. As I write, (in fact the reason why I write), the United States is the only culture to become a Technopoly.
A technopoly is a society that accepts data as fact, science as God and sees national progress measured by the rate of technological expansion. Satiated with technophiles, shielded by the benefits of innovation and ignorantly unaware of the threats. The harm in a technophilic culture does not arise from the technology itself.
There’s no need to detach from the web, live under a rock and utilize a flip-phone. Without question, technology has flooded humanity with bountiful merits and improvements to life. What we lose is when we’re blinded by the progress; the allegorical second-hand smoke, the non-figurative industrial waste and the manipulation of the scientific method to fields intrinsically subjective.
Neil Postman calls such an obstruction scientism: a term encompassing the quantifying of the non-countable, attachment of material qualities to social aspects and the misapplication of the scientific method to intrinsically indefinite matters (i.e intelligence tests, beauty contests, unfounded polling, and over-generalized theories on humanity’s tendencies from petri-dish social experiments).
Involvement in scientism does more than simply invoke rational inquiry in areas not applicable. It creates the threat of unwavering idealization.
[Scientism] is the desperate hope, and wish and ultimately the illusory belief that some standardized set of procedures called “science” can provide us with an unimpeachable source of moral authority, a suprahuman basis for answers
Our Acceptance of Capitalist Surveillance
Perhaps no modern example greater shows the threats of technopoly than the repercussions of the current data revolution. Data has become a monetary token. An exchange that’s a logical consequence of the enveloping industrial world. With the commercialization of the internet, the opportunity to market to the individual consumer exploded in variety.
Aldous Huxley founded the pivotal history of industrialization in his novel Brave New World as BF: Before Ford, and AF: After Ford. The assembly line, the ubiquity of disposable goods and the rapid, global acceptance of automobiles as new technology fed into this fictionalized society’s framework.
Many parallels can be drawn from the mass production techniques of the Ford Empire to the emergence of monolithic tech giants. Social networks spread the full expanse of the globe analogous, sometimes in parallel to the freeways built for cars.
The speed of 21st-century transportation has increased astoundingly rapidly, such as in the case of the telegraphic wire. It continues to deepen its intrusion into our bodies. Roadways and cables betweens cities have morphed into virtual tunnels delivering, gathering information quicker in larger quantities, and ever so more deeply embedded inside of our neural network.
Government and Modern Technology Doesn’t Have Your Best Interest
In the 1980s, the advent of the seatbelt was met with an abundance of lobbying and friction towards regulation. Thankfully in this particular scenario, the government had our best interests in mind and succeeded in overcoming the demands of car-makers. Now, we’ve seamlessly accepted that the lack of a belt could result in a police fine. Such technology has immersed in the modes we’re regulated.
Becoming ‘strapped in’ inside of the data world results in harrowing consequences; much tighter regulatory ropes.
There are so many layers of networked computing, whirring and infinite metaphorical gear’s turning away that it’s not surprising we’ve adopted human qualities for this sphere of machines. We state that computers are ‘down’, have ‘viruses’, call them ‘smart’ and view them with a sense of overbearing detachment.
Neil Postman predicted in Technopoly how readily computer authoritarianism became absorbed in American bureaucracy.
Because of its seeming intelligence and impartiality, a computer has an almost magical tendency to divert attention away from the people in charge of bureaucratic functions and towards itself, as if the computer were the true source of authority.
Twenty seven years later, the tech giants and the bureaucrats collide on as large of a scale as ever. The NSA spy chief is hired at Amazon, Facebook is in the hot seat of treacherous political grounds and Google’s AI algorithms are being utilized by military drones.
Such examples only constitute the controversial embedding of technological power in government. The money continues to flow, we continue to become networked into such chains and the complexity of the occurring algorithms blurs the lines of ethics further.
We watch in awe as our society produces the hi-tech, awarding our dollar and our applause. It can’t and won’t stop. But with its chugging momentum, it pulls and drags in seamlessly within its capillaries: corruption, authority and control.
In technopoly, efficiency and interest need no justification.
With greater awareness, it’s imperative to consider: Are We Technopolized?