Technological change: Culture always pays the price for technology

Neil Postman gave a talk in Denver, 1998 titled Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change

Postman’s speech suggests that technology cannot solve the human race’s most profound problems and creates new ones. He provides five ideas to help understand these new problems.  

Here is a summary of the five ideas using cuts of Postman’s words:

  1. All Technological change is a trade-off. Culture always pays the price for technology.
  2. The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evening among the population. There are always winners and losers in technological change.
  3. Embedded in every technology, there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. The ideas are often hidden from our view because they are somewhat abstract in nature. “The medium is the message” Marshall McLuhan.
  4. Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible.
  5. Media tend to become mythic. The best way to view technology is as a strange intruder, to remember that technology is not part of God’s plan but a product of human creativity and hubris, and that its capacity for good or evil rests entirely on human awareness of what it does for us and to us.

The full text of the speech is freely available on the internet. It is worth the read.

We must view and acknowledge the change to culture brought about by technology and start to use these tools to improve our lives rather than changing ourselves to fit the technology. Many of us now provide our undivided attention to our phones whenever notifications request it, or open social media’s endless scrolling feed and never allow our brains to be bored or fully assimilate new information between tasks. 

We have just been forced through a cultural shift that has required significant technological change. We are beginning to emerge to a new work culture that we can either deliberately design to meet our needs, then build technology to enable it, or allow the current technology to shape this culture for us.

Maybe take a few minutes over the weekend with some paper and a pen, turn off the phone, and sit in a quiet space and start to design.