Author: Neil Postman
Year of Publication: 1992
Page Count: 222
If you’ve heard Neil Postman’s name, it was probably in connection with his best-known (and excellent) book Amusing Ourselves to Death, published in 1985. Postman, who passed away in 2003, was known as an insightful social critic, and his work continues to be cited by Christian theologians and authors, despite the fact that Postman himself was not a Christian. Upon his death, one commentator argued that the reason for Postman’s popularity among Christians (especially confessional Reformed believers) is the fact that “he knew a golden calf when he saw one.”
In Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992, 222 pages), Postman takes on one of the most influential golden calves of the modern age, technology. He begins with his outline of the historical developments that have led to our becoming a technopoly, a society in which technology is no longer a tool to be used, but a master to be served. He examines the impact of technology on medicine, on the widespread use of computers in every part of life, and also discusses what he calls ‘invisible technologies” – things like language, statistics, polling, and intelligence testing – all of which have only grown in importance with the technological advances of recent decades. In his chapter on scientism, which in my view is particularly important, Postman examines the claims of the social sciences, which have themselves become another of the most influential idols of our age.
Postman was not “anti-technology,” and does not argue that technological advancements are inherently negative. However, he rightly concluded that modern society has not given sufficient attention to the inevitable downsides that accompany every technological development. Because of our lack of critical reflection, we are becoming the slaves of technology instead of its masters. The technopoly is an impoverished society, and will remain so until our dedication to technological progress is re-evaluated and successfully challenged. I highly recommend this book, especially for the insight it offers into forms of technology that often go unconsidered because they have become so embedded in our culture. It’s an eye-opener, and well worth reading.