Three Effects of New Technologies, From Someone Who Was Both More and Less Truly Oracular Than McLuhan
Neil Postman was more oracular than Marshall McLuhan because his predictions, in my limited experience, came true more spectacularly. Postman was less oracular than McLuhan because his predictions made sense to normal people.
One of Postman’s predictions/descriptions applies so perfectly to the Internet that it sounds like it was written yesterday. But it’s now 20 years old and, obviously, hit print before the Internet became a daily reality for most Americans. This is what he wrote, in a chapter which encourages readers to think hard about the downsides of technology, not just the upsides (I added the numbers):
- New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about.
- They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with.
- And they alter the nature of our community: the arena in which thoughts develop.
—Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York: Knopf, 1992), 20.
This is all abundantly true of the Internet: we think a lot about the Internet and computers, things we certainly didn’t do 30 years ago, much less 50 or 100. The Internet has brought the computer into almost every home—and even into more and more pockets. Computer analogies have subsequently become our default lens through which to view our own brains (as Nicholas Carr has shown). And our thoughts now develop regularly on and through the Internet. You’re reading a blog, after all.