Tag Archives: Neil Postman

Reader Roundtable: what’s the greatest technology of all time?

Scholars & Rogues wants to know: what do you think is the greatest technology in human history?

Before you answer, what do we mean by “technology”? I think we all have sort of an operational idea in our heads of what we mean by the term, but if you’re like most people, odds are pretty good that you’ve never sat down and tried to articulate a real definition. A couple pretty smart thinkers had some thoughts on the subject that you might find helpful. Or challenging. Let’s see.

First, Arnold Pacey, a British scholar whose Culture of Technology helps us understand that technology is a lot more than just the machine itself, which Pacey calls the “restricted” sense of the term. Read more

Even better than the real thing: mass media and manufactured beauty

Give me one last dance
We’ll slide down the surface of things

You’re the real thing
Yeah the real thing
You’re the real thing
Even better than the real thing

I figured out a long time ago, even before I began encountering grad-level feminist critiques, that our media’s stylized construction and portrayal of female beauty was problematic. It’s bad enough that unattractive people don’t appear in movies, on TV or in magazines unless the narrative expressly requires someone unattractive, and sometimes even that isn’t enough. I mean, the star of Ugly Betty isn’t really ugly.

But it goes beyond this. Read more

My god – it’s full of stars: 2001, Frankenstein and autonomous technology

I used to work with a HAL 9000. Back when I was at US West in the late ’90s we had a voice system into which we would record the day’s company news so that employees without Internet access could dial in and keep up with the latest events. As with any such system there was a dial-in sequence, buttons that had to be pressed in a certain order, etc.

One day, as I was working through the first stage of the sequence, our phone system apparently achieved sentience. For reasons that I still can’t explain, a decade later, and that nobody at the time had any clue about, the machine sort of … intuited what I was about to do. It performed an action or two that, put simply, it could not do. Read more