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Technocracy to Technopoly
Neil Postman, Technopoly,
The Surrender of Culture to Technology,
"The thrust of a century of scholarship
had the effect of making us lose confidence in our belief
systems and therefore ourselves....the success of technology and the
devaluation of traditional beliefs took on the exaggerated significance
that pushed technocracy in America over into Technopoly."
facts | People's stories
| How did it happen? | Comments
Manufacture, originally meant "made by hand"
[manus + fac, from faire | hand + to make. To make by]
Theory or theories (concepts that rationally support each
other) can have influence equal at times to tools:
Francis Bacon's empiricism used to challenge
the four idols that enslave the human mind, psychologically crippling
people to believe in superstitions based on perceptual errors, ethnic
prejudice, rhetorical skill, or appearances.
Adam Smith's concept of wealth, commerce and
monopoly capitalism. Specialization and exchange of goods is the source
of money and influence that should be controlled to alleviate poverty
Richard Arkwright's water frame for spinning thread and weaving, inventor
and the transformation of textile production through the use of
Revolution, from 1830-1890, is an example of just one element in the
Technopoly is defined as "the submission of all forms
of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology."
Certain inventions are more central or key than other
tools and these tool complexes converge, such that the full influence
of their combined impacts is greater than the mere sum of their respective
- Railroads being steam engines, iron, coal, timber,
telegraph, joint stock companies, machine shops and marketing
- Media being print, voice, pictures, means of exchanging
information, display technique and advertising
- Electrical generating being the use of dynamos, transformers,
batteries, generators, wires, switching devices and sources of fuels
such as water, coal, oil, natural gas, wind, fissionable material, or
Two hero's stories
Richard Arkwright, hairdresser
and barber was also an inventor. "One thinks of that other hairdresser.
Richard Arkwright, whose eighteenth-century water frame was a key invention
in the shift from hand to power spinning in the transformation of the
Pursell, p. 45.
Textile manufacturing machinery, run
by water in the nineteenth century and preserved at Lowell Mills, Massachusetts.
Thomas Alva Edison, was a telegraph key operator for
a Midwestern railway, as a young man. Early in his career, when he fell
asleep at the telegraph key, two trains collided, because he had failed
to send the required message to the next control point on the main line.
This may be an example of Murphy's Law: "when anything
technical involving people can go wrong, it will go wrong."
role of themes and stories
Postman's cornerstone personalities:
Sir Francis Bacon, The new relation of practical,
empirical research to industrial advancement
Frederick Winslow Taylor, Principles of Scientific Management (1911) author
and advocate of machine-like labor.
How did the process of culture surrendering to technology
Postman's argument includes these several elements which
are distinctly important to his belief about how culture surrendered
to technological change in the 1800s:
- a new value emerged that "if something could be
made, it should be made."
- Critics recognized that spiritual degradation accompanied
- a "dialectic" of technological change
- changes in tools, tool complexes and social
organization made life, work, and acquiring wealth easier.
- Drastic changes in mechanized tools put skilled
crafts people out of work, exploited children and made life harder
for the working classes.
- a powerful "thought world" or world of
ideas emerged to challenge customary rules and traditional beliefs
- anti-traditional belief in "laissez-faire
- An aristocracy of intellect and ambition replaced
- idea of progress as a faith in material advancement
- a world "speeded-up" by the introduction
of mechanical machinery
- reorganization of space, time and language
leading to reformulating of work, values, and cities.
- Technocracy, or the rule of the machines, he says "did
not entirely destroy the traditions of the social and symbolic worlds."
- Social world was dominated by feudal elite and
artisan or craft guilds with knowledge of materials.
- Symbolic world was dominated by religion, the clergy
and morality based on faith in good works.
- The eclipse of religion, craft, custom, regional
pride and hereditary aristocracy as means of control over new technology
led to an absence of control.
- The appeal to mechanistic, material and machine qualities
to justify behavior, ethics and education led to a redefinition of
- relativism, newest set of ideas that truth is
not discernible, only related to what people think is so.
- pragmatism, older set of ideas that any criteria
used to judge something's value is "what works."
- utilitarianism, the oldest set of beliefs in
"the greatest good for the greatest number" trumps all
- Industrial changes in tools, organization of work,
and personal relations led to a monopoly of values in the hands of technologically
astute (savvy) elite or a managerial control class:
- Richard Arkwright's textile factories and machine
operators replacing weavers, loom crafts, and tailors.
- Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Principles of
- Henry Ford and the industrial reform of manufacture,
mass-production, urban design, & psychology.
- In summary, the rule of machinery was
replaced by a convergence of tool complexes as the sole source of meaning,
value and identity
- the sources of change were so speedy and complete
that public schools and media could not keep up
- at this speed of change the changes became "invisible"
to most participants and thus "irrelevant" to a discussion
of social control of the new wealth, order and power created by
- key concepts, fundamental ideas, and older morality
were all redefined and the challenges raised to technical expertise
were largely swept aside by a "brave new world order."
Technopoly, pp. 40-55.
analysis of the transition from a tool using to a tool commanding
culture is not easy to summarize, but the above nine points to his
argument force you to understand how material changes brought about
psychological and intellectual changes that redefined customary boundaries
that shape modern industrial cultures.
or the period in which homogenizing of all products, natural and
industrial is shaping our world is the name given by some botanists
to the character of contemporary cultural landscapes. Because homogenize
means to remove differences, the term aptly refers to the outcome
or the separation of the skilled worker from those capabilities
a person possesses from training in specific crafts, is used to
describe the impact of industrial production on the labor force
and the value of that labor in terms of new automated machinery.
Critics charge that skills are lost, such as Pacey does, with respect
to the knowledge of materials that craft workers may have, that
some architects and engineers may lack.
- Capital accumulation
changes when newer, more profitable procedures, based on new or
existing technology is introduced. The flow of resources may also
lead to excess capital accumulating due to restricted policies or
shortages created by new means or new techniques of acquiring raw
materials or finished goods.
Tools to Technocracy
From Technocracy to Technopoly
An improbable world
The Two Cultures
Pursell | Pacey–World | Postman | Tenner |Pacey–meaning| Eberhart | Snow | Kaku | Boulding | Delillo | Kranzberg