Culture and Colossus: Two Visions of Technology

Grant Morrison, Professor Emeritus of History at Long Island University (not the comic book writer), offers a superb essay comparing two opposing visions of humanity’s technological past, present, and future: O. B. Hardison, as put forth in Disappearing Through the Skylight: Culture and Technology in the Twentieth Century, and Neal Postman, in his classic Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.

Here’s a taste:

Cultures must have narratives, Postman says; if good ones are not available, bad ones will do (he points to Nazi Germany). The older narratives, full of rich symbols, sustained traditional, coherent worldviews. Very little in America—and less and less elsewhere—support that possibility any longer. (Hardison, of course, revels in the loss of narrative coherence, of stability. Nevertheless, most people who inhabit cultures dwell outside the academy’s precincts, and few of them will be able to watch with Hardison’s detached irony as everything meaningful in their lives disappears through the skylight. Many of them have searched and will continue to search, sometimes in unlovely corners, for other sources of meaning.)

In his last chapter Postman feels obliged to put forward what he terms “a reasonable response (hardly a solution) to the problem of living in a developing Technopoly.” He proposes some curriculum reforms for the schools which, in the improbable event of their ever being adopted, would certainly be more helpful than most of those suggested by our numerous educational commissions. He also offers a brief description of “the loving resistance fighter.” Postman being no advocate of violence, this is not a portrait of an eco-guerrilla but a list of principles that run counter to those of prevailing technological attitudes. His resistance fighters are people who are “suspicious of the idea of progress,” who “refuse to accept efficiency as the pre­eminent goal of human relations,” who “do not believe that science is the only system of thought capable of producing truth,” and so on. Who can quarrel with such unexceptionable maxims?

But, really, read the whole thing.

The Imaginative Conservative continues to give me hope that conservatives may be able to sever our ties to the noxious Republican party and return to essentials.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.