Neil Postman asks in his 1993 book ‘Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology’ (Postman, 1993), is technology moral? As technology changes, the culture surrounding it and the way in which people use technology to communicate also changes. We are driven to participate in media through society, our western culture dictates that in order to stay connected with those around us, we must use the new technologies. The media environment that we exist in today defines the range of responses and actions that we take, the way we communicate with others and puts restrictions on the full human experience that we would have had prior to the digital revolution. Lance Strate suggests the following,
“As environments, media do not determine our actions, but they define the range of possible actions we can take, and facilitate certain actions while discouraging others.” (Strate, 2008)
His paper on ‘Studying media as media’ (Strate, 2008) delves into the study of media ecology focusing on Marshall McLuhan’s work in the book ‘The Medium is the Massage’ (McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q., & Agel, J, 1967). Media ecology is the study of media as media and McLuhan, Strate and Postman all point at the situation that as media and technology change, it is important that we are aware of how the medium (the technology) is altering the way in which we send and perceive the message it contains.
Technology is embedded in everyday life for most of us, access to the internet with customized information is available in our pockets and all around us. It would seem that the advancement of new technologies in entertainment, communication and connectivity is continually pushed forward for the sake of consumerism and financial gain without any thought into the social and human ways in which we have learnt to interact prior. Technology can shape the way we interact in a positive way by bringing people together geographically, giving rise to independently sharing ideas, events and concerns that would have previously been suppressed by old media and government control. This is seen directly for most people in the use of social media sites.
But in contrast, this new media environment is also growing unchecked and the overload of information, content created by all users in a convergence culture (Jenkins, 2008) is what Postman is suggesting could create a disconnection between using the technology and being used by the technology. Is technology being moral in developing ways and mediums of communicating media faster than we can make sense of the ethically right way of adapting to it?
“Whatever the consequences of the messages we send, it is the media we use that play the leading role in human affairs; it is our technologies that shape us individually and collectively. It may be true that a good part of what we call reality is a social construction, but the construction we end up with is not necessarily one that we intended to build.” (Strate, 2008)
In my lifetime since 1980, I have seen the rise of the personal computer and the connection of this to the network we call the internet. It has drastically changed and shaped the way we find and collate information, while much more is available with ease from my home, I have found less of a need to transcribe and collect my own thoughts on topics, rather relying on searching for others thoughts and research. In hindsight, it is clear to see where the moral and ethical consequences of the impact of media and technology on society have made mistakes and could be improved. The adaptation of new media and technology always seems to come first without the thought of its effects.
Neil Postman’s views on the effects of technology on culture (Postman, 1993) are drawn from a standpoint of creating the discussion around the topic. This awareness of the cultural impacts that technology has on us is perhaps the main trigger that is needed in order to make an ethical judgement on our use and interaction with new media. I don’t consider Postman’s views to be extreme, but rather an introduction to thinking before we leap into changing the way we communicate with each other. At the time it was introduced in the mid-early nineties, we were beginning to see the rise of the new internet SLIP/PPP protocols (PPP and SLIP protocols, 2017) that constantly connects our digital devices to a network that today spans the globe. Postman’s metaphor at the time was relevant to the change from written and oral communication to print and TV, but its even more important in today’s culture as digital mediums slowly reform all forms of print, written, oral and video media. In this video, he discusses his book and defines what he refers to as technology.
Strate suggested that McLuhan’s goals were to communicate that we should take care in paying attention to the medium, as it can direct the ways in which we live our lives.
“McLuhan’s goal was the liberation of the human mind and spirit from its subjugation to symbol systems, media, and technologies. This can only begin with a call to pay attention to the medium, because it is the medium that has the greatest impact on human affairs, not the specific messages we send or receive. It is the symbolic form that is most significant, not the content. It is the technology that matters the most, its nature and its structure, and not our intentions. It is the materials that we work with, and the methods we use to work with them, that have the most to do with the final outcome of our labors.” (Strate, 2008)
The discussion and study of media as media, media ecology is an important step to deciphering the paths and methods of adapting to the new media technologies. While not all new technologies are considered useful to our lives, change in technologies and the ways in which they integrate into our lives are inevitable. It is perhaps only after using and then considering what we have lost with new technologies, that it can become apparent the precautions that should have been taken. Each user has a choice to some extent to involve or not involve themselves in the changing media landscape, but failure to do so can result in being uninformed to the current situations and events. As new media technologies arise, it is important for users to change their habits and become more aware of how they themselves fit into the media environment and this awareness can help lead us to a more balanced media ecology.
Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology. New York: Vintage Books.
Lance Strate (2008), Studying Media AS Media: McLuhan and the Media Ecology Approach, MediaTropes eJournal Vol I (2008): 127–142
McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q., & Agel, J. (1967). The medium is the massage: an inventory of effects. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Jenkins, H. (2008). Convergence culture: where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.
PPP and SLIP protocols. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2017, from http://ccm.net/contents/282-ppp-and-slip-protocols
B. (2009, October 19). Retrieved November 28, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbAPtGYiRvg
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