Postman is good at showing us the significance of past events and putting a certain history of technology into persppective, and his central complaint, that our unthinking acceptance of technology has taken away something from our lives, is one I applaud and would like youngsters in particular to be aware of. His arguments, however, are rather muddled, and keep coming back to the idea of an earlier culture that worked better for us. This garden of Eden rests on Postman's faith in Humanism, the idea that if you treat people right all will be well, as a sort of replacement for the earlier and more prescriptive Christian religion.
I don't think the religion of earlier centuries in Britain was good for us; yes it kept people in order, but that order was unfair at best and downright cruel for many (read Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' for an account of cruelty in the name of religious teaching). What went wrong was not so much down to technology as the adoption of money, something that Postman fails to emphasise. Money, by it's one-dimensional nature that takes no account of damage, pollution, harm to others etc, gave individuals incentives to succeed at things that were not in the interests of society as a whole. Thus selling books became a way of making money, rather than a way of spreading good ideas. Advertising completed the job of creating our consumer society in which wealthy owners of production use others as both slaves to make things, and consumers to demand them - even if they are not really needed.
Postman was a writer, not a scientist, and as such I think he lacks the ability to truly understand science. When he points out that people today have no way of knowing whether a statement is true or not (with his examples of 'false news' about a miracle compound 'dyoxin') he is missing the fact that some of us are indeed able to separate fact from fiction, though it is by a method that is impossible for the majority, who are non-scientists, to understand as it relies on a mode of thinking that has I think to be inculcated from youth. To give my own example of this, take the fact that Toxoplasma Gondii, an organism that multiplies in the guts of cats, also exists in ten to fifty percent of humans in dormant form (depending which country they live in) and appears to change their behaviour. Bizarrely, people involved in serious road accidents are three times more likely to be carrying Toxoplasma. How can I know that this is the cause? Are risk-takers more likely to own cats, or to have bad hygiene around cats? Asking such questions is part of the method by which we arrive at facts, but there is something else. Toxoplasma has been genetically sequenced and found to contain a gene for an enzyme that makes a precursor to Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain connected with mood. But Toxoplasma has no nervous system, so why would it do that? We understand that it makes it in order to change the brain of rats in order to promote it's life cycle, by making them attracted to cats! Are humans suffering 'collateral damage' because they are mammals with similar nervous systems? Probably!! This is a long example, but it demonstrates that real thinkers do not simply 'know' or 'not know' but have the ability to find then fit together all the evidence to prove a case. This is what our society is really missing! Instead of teaching facts by rote in schools, we should be teaching real science, it's methods, and real independent thinking. We also need polymaths; scientists able to cross the artificial boundaries of disciplines; in this case of epidemiology, genetics, evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and psychology. Polymaths are in short supply because scientists need jobs that pay them a living, and are not free to follow where their thoughts take them as in Darwin's day. E O Wilson, famous scientist and evolutionary psychologist pressed for this cross-disciplinary approach in his book 'consilience' ePostman would not disagree with this, but he doesn't even begin to follow it through; instead he seems more of a Luddite wanting to return to former belief systems, despite his emphasis that some technology is beneficial.
A topic of urgent importance, much more urgent than Postman could ever have imagined, but a book that is rather out of date and lacking in ideas.
- Paperback: 1 pages
- Publisher: VINTAGE USA - MASS MARKET; 1 edition (1 June 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679745408
- ISBN-13: 978-0679745402
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 227 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 143,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)