essays

The Judgment of Thamus

Neil Postman is the author of the book Technopoly; The Surrender of Culture to Technology, where he refers to the story of Egyptian King Thamus in the Plato’s Phaedrus and tries to pursue some arguments concerning the impacts of technology on different people. He describes how the king of Upper Egypt responded to the invention of writing made by the god Theuth.  Neil also tries to respond to Theuth’s description of writing as a sure way to gain memory of something and wisdom as well. The god Theuth had made a list of inventions such as numbers, calculations, astronomy, geometry and writing. Postman is mainly concerned with the inventory of writing. The technology of printing is identified as to be a significant tool for improving both wisdom and knowledge in an individual and particularly the subjects of the King.  However, Thamus failed to agree on the benefits of writing and instead claimed that it was only important for recollection and not memory. Thamus did not see the advantages of the technology of writing, instead, found it a burden to the society.

Postman uses this example to illustrate the bad and the good effects of technology in the society, and this tale forms the foundation of his book. In it, Postman criticizes King Thamus for only focusing on the negative effects of writing and not considering the positive impacts (Postman 1). Neil uses the judgment of Thamus to clarify a few sound principles; concerning the critique of writing, the condemnation of writing by Thamus and how it has transformed the field of modern science and technology. In my reading, I beg to differ with most of the things that Postman claims. He mocks teachers who support the invention of new technologies by calling them perverse. This is one point I disagree with in his book as he claims that technology would be the downfall of such teachers. In my opinion, many teachers are capable of adapting to the new technology, and they can also discover effective ways of employing the technology. This leads me to disagree with Postman when he claims that technology would lead to many teachers losing their jobs due to the introduction of computers and television.

I also disagree with where he says that technology has caused a burden on the society. According to Postman, the introduction of computer technology can be associated with some benefits to organizations, but they are easy to track and control. Furthermore, he claims that they are overwhelmed by junk mail. I beg to disagree with Postman’s claims as I have witnessed the great benefits that technology has brought to the society. The problem of junk mail has also been addressed by now. However, it is true to say that computer technology has made it easier for people to access unauthorized information which I feel is a result of negligence. I feel that most of his ideas are focused on the adverse effects of various technologies instead of positive impacts. As I read Postman’s text, I find him pessimistic concerning the impacts of technology in the society.

The text contains an explicit thesis; Postman elaborates on the judgments of Thamus concerning the technology of writing. Postman feels that Thamus was right to be concerned about the impacts of the technology of writing on various aspects such as knowledge, wisdom, and memory. However, he picks an argument that Thamus was wrong to claim that technology was a burden to society. At this point, his central theme of the book emerges, and he feels that the adoption of new technologies brings both positive and negative impacts. Technology plays a critical role in people’s perceptions, their interests, and the community. Technological change is ecological in nature as it changes how people operate.  Understanding the purpose of any technology is therefore regarded as a crucial thing to take part in.

The arguments and the evidence are organized systematically to illustrate the effect of technology. Postman feels that its purpose determines the effect of technology. The intention of technology on the other hand, depends on its structure. Hence, he claims that people should seek to understand the consequences of technology then they can embrace it depending on what they find. Postman describes the impacts of technology on language. Technology has introduced many new terminologies for new things and has also altered the definitions of known terms. Postman illustrates this by using the example of computers and television altering the meaning of information that is contained in books.

Technology has been identified to create a knowledge monopoly. In Postman’s opinion, controlling the works of a technology generates power to the person in charge. He supports this argument with an example of how the discovery of television has resulted in the shift of control from the traditional monopolies of knowledge. This is similar in the case of computers. Postman also identifies the winners and the losers of new technologies. The winners’ category is made up of those individuals who understand how the technology operates and its purpose. This leads to a shift in power, and thus, the benefits and disadvantages of the technology become unequally distributed. Postman argues that all individuals praise the benefits of technology, winners and losers included. He feels this is the effect of winners of technology fostering and preaching its advantages to all persons. This is despite the fact that the new technology only benefits a few portions of people.

Postman relies on evidence such as the introduction of automobiles bringing an end to the work of blacksmiths (Postman 3). The introduction of new technology reduced the dependency on blacksmiths and many of them ended up adapting to the technological change. This is through learning new techniques such as welding and using new tools such as the electric arc. Former blacksmiths still retained their fundamental skills but their titles changed to mechanics and they now worked in huge factories rather than small shops. Postman also uses evidence of the introduction of television being the downfall of school teachers (Postman 3). He uses education to illustrate how teachers are in the category of losers, yet they are made to think they are among the winners of technology. Television has led to the altering of many existing meanings and terms, such as news.

The author’s purpose of this text is to induce a reflection on the impacts of new technology. For this to be possible, Postman prefers a slow technological change which will make it possible for people first to understand the technology before they can embrace it. He has tried to challenge Plato’s work in his analysis of the Phaedrus. He uses this book to dismiss the Theuth’s formula for obtaining memory and wisdom. Postman tries to convince the reader that the technology of writing is a way to promote recollection and not a memory which is contrary to Theuth’s opinions. Writing provides an effective way to remember things using external signs and instead of using the internal resources. He is motivated by the importance of understanding the technological changes that occur in the society considering the unpredictability it comes with. He assumes the significant role of creating general awareness of the dangerous effects of the pharmacon, another word for Theuth’s invention of writing.

The catalyst of Postman insisting on the essence of understanding technology is due to the unpredictable nature of technological change. Most people tend to ignore the implication of technology and chose to focus on ways the technology can benefit them. This implies people have turned a blind eye to negative impacts of technology and only see the positive effects. Postman claims that people should be aware of the changes occurring in learning and the implications of technology. In other words, people need to consider both the negative and positive impacts of technology.

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