Friday, February 18, 2011

Thoughts on Neil Postman

Neil Postman had a unique trait you do not see in many people; Postman made his opinions very clear.  The former New York University professor wrote dozens of books, in addition to hundreds of articles and essays.  Postman died in 2003, but his legacy lives on (Boston Globe, 2003).  I will show you why Postman has gained a reputation for being critical of modern technology.
Postman certainly made broad generalizations, but he had good reason.  The amount of technological advances Postman witnessed in his 72 years of life was enormous.  Postman called the effects of modern advancement strange and dangerous (Postman, 1993: 20).  Postman (1993) warns that new technologies alter the structure of our interests and how we think.  When discussing computers, Postman warns users to examine how computers will alter our conception of learning (Postman, 1993: 19).  It is easy to say Postman is a pessimist, but I do believe he presents a legitimate concern that people should think about the good and bad with new technology.  I love Postman’s definition of Technophiles.  Postman gives the name to people who only see what new technologies can do, and not what technologies will undo (Postman, 1993: 5).  How many times do you hear of people standing outside stores for hours to get the latest and greatest new gadget?  Having friends who have camped in freezing weather in dark parking lots, I can tell you these people are not concerned about what problems will occur from their new toy.
Postman’s reputation for being critical of the media and modern technology is evident in his classification of cultures.  While some historians base their labeling on social, educational, or financial standards, Postman manages to incorporate technology.  His approach is brilliant!  Postman considers tool-using cultures scarce in the current world, a culture that was dominant in the seventeenth century (Postman, 1993: 22). Postman said tool-using cultures were created to solve urgent problems of physical life, such as in the use of waterpower (Postman, 1993: 23).  Postman said this culture was also utilized in the symbolic world of art, politics, and ritual.  He refers to the construction of castles and cathedrals to demonstrate his point (Postman, 1993: 23).  Postman (1993) labeled the 18th century as the beginning of technocratic culture.  Citing the creation of the steam engine in 1765, Postman said technocratic cultures foster the rewarding of more productive inventions and creations, and the shunning of technologies the new tools replace (Postman, 1993: 41).  Lastly, Postman introduces the technopolistic culture.  Postman believes the responses generated in these societies tend to only focus on what new technologies do, not the negative effects (Postman, 1993: 5).
Having studied Postman and his thoughts in the past, I have come to believe he was a man who believed that technology forms how people think.  In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Postman said, “to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple." I agree completely with Postman.  When a technology eliminates the need for someone to think in order to do a specific task, it cannot help but create an effect, either negative or positive. As the authors of Computer Mediated Communication point out, technology will enable some uses, but restrict other uses, ultimately causing people to use them in certain ways. (Thurlow, Lengel & Tomic, 2007: 43)
In conclusion, Postman appears to be biased against new technologies, but I feel he is simply being realistic.  It is my opinion Postman has presented plenty of reasons for people to be concerned about so-called advancements in technology.  Advancement in technology does not necessarily mean advancement in common sense or the betterment of a society.


Boston Globe. (2003, October 9). Obituaries. Retrieved February 17, 2011, from

Postman, N. (2005). Amusing ourselves to death: Public discourse in the age of show Business. London: Penguin Group.

Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York, NY: Vintage Books

Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., & Tomic, A. (2007). Computer mediated communication. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications

Friday, February 4, 2011


            Words help inform, express emotions, and entertain.  When words are put on paper they have endless life.  Words that are only verbalized can be forgotten or have their meanings misinterpreted in a matter of seconds.  In this blog, I intend to highlight the power of communication through written words and spoken words.  I will also show you how the use of words has evolved over time. 
            Looking through the pages of Genesis in The Holy Bible we see a narrative outlining the beginning of time as we know it.  All but two of the 31 verses in chapter one of Genesis in the King James Version of The Holy Bible begins with the word ‘and’; The Douay has the same features.  Newer translations offer a different style to modernize the text.  The New American translates the Hebrew we or wa as ‘and’, ‘when’, ‘then’, ‘thus’, or ‘while’ (Ong, 1982: 37).  Original transcripts feature archaic words, so it is not uncommon to see words featured in older texts of The Holy Bible translated to modern terms.  Walter Ong (1982) said when generations pass and the object referred to by the archaic word is no longer used its meaning is often altered or disappears.  Those words we today see as archaic were the words people verbally used hundreds of years ago.  The Holy Bible itself was drafted based on words spoken to men by God.
In some cases we see God inspired words removed from modern Bible translations. For instance, the New International Version does not have Acts 8:37.  The verse reads, “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”  According to Like The Master Ministries, the verse did not occur in the earliest manuscripts of the New Testament. The verse did not appear until about 500-600 A.D. in a manuscript now known as Codex Laudianus. The passage was inserted by a scribe who wanted to explain why the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized (“Bible questions,” 2011).  Bible scholars also point to the Apostle John’s statement found in John 21:25, which says “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”
Like The Holy Bible, The Illiad is believed to be an oral creation.  In The Illiad, Homer uses elaborate and sensational words to tell the story of Achilles and the Greek siege on Troy. The Illiad is incredibly violent.  Physical violence is often a characteristic of oral narrative (Ong, 1982: 45).  Ong (1982) said ignorance of causes of disaster can foster tension. In lieu of physical causes, hostility is often directed toward people.  When verbal communication must be by direct word of mouth, interpersonal relations, good or bad, are kept high (Ong, 1982: 45). With this mindset, one could say we are safer with the use of writing!
Walter Ong wrote that writing is a technology that restructures thought (Ong, 1986).  Technology is defined as the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area (“Dictionary and,” 2011).  Many of us correlate technology with electronic devices.  The definition of technology, and Ong’s statement, makes us realize pencil and paper can make a difference in lives just like electronics.  When I read a piece of history for the first time it changes what I know.  If someone had not documented that information, I would have to receive the information verbally.  Without writing, words are sounds with no focus or trace; there is nowhere to “look” for them (Ong, 1982: 31).
Our minds are often filled with what seems like a million thoughts.  Relying on my mind as a source of accurate knowledge is not something I recommend.  Words spoken have a short life, whereas words written have the potential to transcend centuries.  As I have highlighted above, words have a lot of power; they should be respected by being given a longer chance of survival.

Bible questions & answers. (2011). Retrieved February/3, 2011, from
Dictionary and thesaurus. (2011). Retrieved February/3, 2011, from
Ong, W. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.