“But for those of us who have thrown off the myth of the machine, the next move is ours: for the gates of the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty ancient hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out.”
“the gates of the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty ancient hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out.”
the next move is ours: for the gates of the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty ancient hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out.
“the technocratic prison will open automatically, despite their rusty ancient hinges, as soon as we choose to walk out”
Postman defines technopoly as a “totalitarian technocracy”, which demands the “submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology”. Echoing Ellul’s 1964 conceptualisation of technology as autonomous, “self-determinative” independently of human action, and undirected in its growth, technology in a time of Technopoly actively eliminates all other ‘thought-worlds’. Thus, it reduces human life to finding meaning in machines and technique.
This is exemplified, in Postman’s view, by the computer, the “quintessential, incomparable, near-perfect” technology for a technopoly. It establishes sovereignty over all areas of human experience based on the claim that it “‘thinks’ better than we can”.
Values of “technological theology”
A technopoly is founded on the belief that technique is superior to lax, ambiguous and complex human thinking and judgement, in keeping with one of Frederick W. Taylor’s ‘Principles of scientific management’. It values efficiency, precision, and objectivity.
It also relies upon the “elevation of information to a metaphysical status: information as both the means and end of human creativity”. The idea of progress is overcome by the goal of obtaining information for its own sake. Therefore, a technopoly is characterised by a lack of a cultural coherence or a “transcendent sense of purpose or meaning”.
Postman attributes the origins of technopoly to ‘scientism’, the belief held by early social scientists including Auguste Comte that the practices of natural and social science would reveal the truth of human behaviour and provide “an empirical source of moral authority”.
Consequences of technopoly
Postman refers to Harold Innis’ concept of “knowledge monopolies” to explain the manner in which technology usurps power in a technopoly. New technologies transform those who can create and use them into an “elite group”, a knowledge monopoly, which is granted “undeserved authority and prestige by those who have no such competence”. Subsequently, Postman claims, those outside of this monopoly are led to believe in the false “wisdom” offered by the new technology, which has little relevance to the average person.
Telegraphy and photography, he states, redefined information from something that sought out to solve particular problems to a commodity that is potentially irrelevant to the receiver. Thus, in technopoly, “information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose”.
In the U.S. technopoly, excessive faith and trust in technology and quantification has led to absurdities such as an excess of medical tests in lieu of a doctor’s judgment, treatment-induced illnesses (‘iatrogenics’), scoring in beauty contests, an emphasis on exact scheduling in academic courses, and the interpretation of individuals through “invisible technologies” like IQ tests, opinion polls, and academic grading, which leave out meaning or nuance. If bureaucracies implement their rules in computers, it can happen that the computer’s output is decisive, the original social objective is treated as irrelevant, and the prior decisions about what the computer system says are not questioned in practice when they should be. The author criticizes the use of metaphors that characterize people as information-processing machines or vice versa—e.g. that people are “programmed” or “de-programmed” or “hard-wired”, or “the computer believes …”; these metaphors are “reductionist”.
A technopoly also trivialises significant cultural and religious symbols through their endless reproduction. Postman echoes Jean Baudrillard in this view, who theorises that “technique as a medium quashes … the ‘message’ of the product (its use value)”, since a symbol’s “social finality gets lost in seriality”.
Scary how he called this in 1990
This is worth redigesting every six months
TECHNOPOLY its the REAL THING.