Neil Postman and Media Ecology

Here is an older lecture from Neil Postman, presenting to the faculty and students at Calvin College. It is part 1 of 7. If the first part catches your interest, you can view the rest of them on YouTube. If we are going to spend time exploring critical perspectives on technology and society, we can’t ignore Postman. Back in the 1990s, it was Postman’s books that introduced me to the world of media ecology, challenged me to ask tough questions about our technological society, and introduced me to a world of thinkers/authors like Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong…

More than anything else, I value Postman for helping us craft good questions about life in the digital world. ”

What is the problem to which this technology is a solution?”

“Whose problem is it actually?”

“If there is a legitimate problem that is solved by the technology, what other problems will be caused by my using this technology?”

“Am I using this technology or is it using me?”

Stepping Away from the Buzz

For the past two years, we had an Emachine desktop computer with a fan as loud as…well, as loud as a fan (ceiling fan?). Given that we have a couple of kids who have been exercising their vocal chords in the form of an occasional scream, the background noise was sometimes a welcome distraction. Last week we bought a laptop as a replacement for the white noise generator that we sometimes used for computing. Oddly, it was not until turning off that computer that I became reacquainted with silence. No buzzing computers, no TV, and given the final arrival of Spring, no humming of the furnace. It isn’t like this lasted for long, but over the past few weeks, I’ve been able to take a few minutes here and there just to enjoy the silence (that is until I got a head cold and got this ringing in my ears…but that is another story altogether).

Amid this silence, I’ve been considering low-tech living in a high tech world. This is a topic that has interested me for the past ten years, starting with my study of the Luddites and neo-Luddite perspectives back in the 1990s. I’m ready to return to this topic. If I am going to blog on digital culture, then it is time that I contrast digital culture with the low-tech hangouts in this contemporary world, critical perspectives on technology, and even a few “life experiments.” More than ever, perhaps it is important for each of us to step away from the high-tech world on occasion, to listen to the insights of the unplugged, and to add a few low tech rituals to our increasingly cyborg-like existence. For that reason, I will be blogging on two themes over the next month: 1) low tech living and learning in a high tech world, and 2) critical perspectives on technology and digital culture. I’ll try it out for a month or two and decide where to go from there. Please feel free to contact me with feedback using the link at the top of the etale.org home page.