Russell and Duenes

Staying sane in a technological society

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I just finished re-reading the late Neil Postman’s excellent article: Staying Sane in a Technological Society: Six Questions in Search of an Answer. With his typical clarity and prescience he lays bare the central issues that confront us in our “technological age.” Here’s an excerpt to tease you.

Is human cloning simply a bad joke? Surely, any such proposal seriously made is a product of a depraved mind. But it’s difficult not to be depraved in the era in which we live. Here for example is a sentence from a very popular book, called Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at MIT. He says, “In the next millenium we will find we are talking as much or more with machines than we are with humans. What seems to trouble people most is their self-consciousness about talking to inanimate objects.” Negroponte envisions a time when we may speak to a doorknob – he’s particularly fascinated by that problem – or a toaster. And he predicts that when we do, we will find the experience no more uncomfortable than talking to a telephone answering machine.

Negroponte has nothing to say about how we become different by talking to doorknobs, as we already have become a little different by talking to telephone answering machines. Negroponte is concerned only that we adapt to our technological future. He nowhere addresses the psychic or social meaning of adaptation. People are quite capable of adapting to all sorts of things. Soldiers adapt themselves to killing; children adapt themselves to being fatherless; women can adapt themselves to being abused. I have no doubt we can adapt ourselves to talking much more to machines than to people. We may even come to prefer it. But adaptation ought not to be equated with sanity. It is possible to have a nation of adapters who are really quite insane. Anyone who has lived in this century can hardly deny that.

You can read the whole piece here.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 16, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Posted in Duenes, Ethics

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