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Technopoly

by Timothy Black about a year ago in Humanity
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Have we surrendered?

Critical Summary of Neil Postman’s Technopoly, The Surrender of Culture and Technology

To think about a time where technology did not influence, or control societies actions or reactions is difficult to do unless asked the question of technologies history and hold on today’s society. In Ellul’s The Technological Society, technique was used as a totalitarian state’s method of controlling of populations and systems, but in Neil Postman’s assessment of technology, it is technology that is the totalitarian state that controls those who believe they are in control of the systems in place to regulate society. With each innovation of thought and machine, humanity seems devoid of meaning, by being reduced to numerical data and statistics. This is important to academic research because to answer many issues that plague society, the institutions of academia must observe that they may have been comprised by technology’s control of the way they think or ask questions. The continuous drive for efficiency and effectiveness in strategic communication, has been the author’s objective in writing critical summaries about technology, but now with Postman’s view of technology, that drive is a symptom of technology’s evolution.

Postman’s Understanding of Strategic Communication

When societies were still tool-using cultures, strategic communication was still an invisible technology. Invisible technologies described by Postman, evolved with the other technological advancements through the ages. Orators communicated stories to their tribes that warned children of the dangers of life and answered the questions of the unknown. Literature allowed for ideas and concepts to be transported around the world. Language is the invisible technology used in strategic communications. Communicators use different degrees of emotion and statistics to call society to action or self-reflection. Their technology is the power and authority of their voice in oral communication, and tone in written communication. Postman poses a good question to communicators, not directly, but what is the driving force to call society to action, is it because technology wants society to be more efficient and effective or is it solve a moral issue in society for the betterment of humanity? Is the reason to solve a moral issue in society is that society can be more productive? Since the invention of the clock, it seems that the aims of society’s institutions are to be more productive, through innovation that improves efficiency and effectiveness.

A simple document such as a military evaluation, which breaks down the effectiveness of a service members performance and character in a year’s period by 5-point scale as well as an 18 line written report guided by the simple sentence structure of actions and impacts reduces his or her quality to mere numbers. These numbers are then evaluated by a board to determine whether he or she is worthy of promotion, based off other bureaucratic numbers that determine the number of quotas available to promote at each pay grade. The process is of evaluating service members is still not objective, as it is their supervisors who determine where they rack and stack on the 5-point scales as well as the power to send coded messages in the evaluation write up to burn the junior member’s chances of promotion. The silent technology of language has an influence, because if the manager decides to use passive language such as “This sailor has potential to be a good member of the Chiefs’ mess” is really telling the board, that the sailor is not there yet, so do not promote them. This also means that evaluators do not need to directly write an honest report of the performance and character because they can use specific coded messages through both written text and numbers to reduce that member’s chances of promotion.

Looking beyond the internal use of military evaluations, language as a technology, drives how command messages and talking points are developed for military communicators, by military communicators. Even writing this essay and having it grammatically checked by Grammarly, there is a warning that comes up every time passive voice is used. Military communicators and civilian journalists are taught to use active voice in writing leads, headlines and captions because of how our minds react to information. Passive voice comes off as, well passive and lends the reader or listener to doubt one’s authority.

Technopoly

Technopoly as described by Postman is the point in which society stopped trying to find the truth through theology and philosophy, but through scientific method, that was used as a tool of management (p. 49). It was the final phase of removing the old-world view and replace it with science, that yields as much or more power than religion. Just this week, the U.S. Navy launched an exercise off the coast of San Diego, testing the integration of unmanned vessels with manned ships. On the U.S. Navy’s Facebook post, showcasing the images of the exercise, were comments that reflect old world views of having machines fighting our wars without the guiding hand of a human there to die with the machine. “I do enjoy technology, and I am proud to have been a sailor, but there is an inherent danger in taking the skin out of the game”, said Jeff Hamilton. To this, the author responds,

“Warfare doesn’t work that way. When you have potential adversaries with 10 times the military personnel, you are going to need every asset in your arsenal to protect your people and country. Why wait until some other country outpaces us in this technological advance? Have we not learned from the past about waiting until it is too late to improve on a technology? We invented airplanes, did not have the most advanced war planes until after World War II. We invented tanks but did not have a solid tank until after WWII. We sat on the ball because of the failure of our society to take advantage of technology before the war begins.”

With this simple battle of words, the author demonstrates both the use of strategic communication to change or persuade the narrative with the public, not directly acting as an asset of the military, but as a hopeful sailor in winning the wars of the future and not repeating the past. The old views of warfare go to the wayside when statistical data determines that a potential adversary has more warm bodies. With such a gap, a technological solution is needed to bridge that gap, and the controversial unmanned systems could prove to the force multiplier needed to deter and win wars on the high seas. “Technocracy does not have as its aim a grand reductionism in which human life must find its meaning in machinery and technique. Technopoly does” (Postman, 1993, p. 52). These machines will kill other armed combatants, reducing them to casualties of war. Like victors coming home from war, will these unmanned vessels be decorated for valor in combat? Will their operators, like those who flew unmanned aerial vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan during the War on Global Terrorism, face the same psychological consequences of their actions? The machines will not have any issues with what they are used for, the operators will still have to live with it, which supports Postman’s point about technopoly that “society is best served when human beings are placed at the disposal of their techniques and technology, that human beings are, in a sense, worth less than their machinery” (p.52).

Relevance to Future Strategic Communications

In consuming and understanding the technological concerns of Postman, then researchers of strategic communications can self-reflect on their own institutions. This self-reflection on how communication technology, both physical and intangible, guide one’s thinking and processes of communicating. Postman states early that it is impossible to know the full impacts from technology on culture and society until years after it was introduced. That is the reason, strategic communicators and researchers can only reflect on the past and present and ask themselves personally if what they’re doing is the right thing. There seems to be no harm in using different media to communicate to the media users, but the message being sent is now up to scrutiny. If the messages about sexual harassment and assault in the military are only a check in the box by military bureaucrats, they are only doing it because the system in which they are programmed to operate in through military institutions of indoctrination dictate them to react publicly to cases. The desires to react to sexual harassment by higher tiers of leadership might be solely because with each case, commands lose trust and personnel, hindering effectiveness and efficiency of operations. The authenticity of the message is lost as it seems ritualized and insincere. Technique used by military public affairs personnel is taught in an institution of education at the Defense Information School, in which the problems that face other institutions of learning described by Postman can have the same effects in how they are taught. A possible solution to avoid the ritualistic and cookie cutter command responses to routine social issues that are hurting the modern military forces, is to scrutinize the school itself, and ensure that the professionals leave the school knowing how to think for themselves as a member of humanity, and avoid technique regulating their every move.

Conclusion

With the prime directive of the Department of Defense being to deter future military aggression and win the war when it comes, in which they accomplish this through technology and technique, there is not much room to say no to future technology that can help make the military more effective and efficient. Because of this alone, it seems that Postman is correct that the military is controlled by technology, because failure to be driven by production can lead to failing the main of objective of defending the Technopoly in which our society lives in. If the meaning of life is relegated to how much one can produce in their lifetime, then there is no problem in how society operates, but information has yet to solve many key problems in society, such as hunger, poverty, and homelessness, as well as overconsumption caused by the endless need to expand and produce. Strategic communication is tied to these concerns because it is the invisible technology that drives the agenda or response to problems of society.

References

Bisht, I. S. (2021, March 31). US Navy to Establish Unmanned Vessel Division. Retrieved from https://www.thedefensepost.com/2021/03/31/us-navy-unmanned-vessel-division/

Ellul, J., Wilkinson, J., & Merton, R. K. (1967). The technological society. New York: Vintage Books.

Postman, N. (1993). Technolopy: The surrender of culture to technology. New York, NY: Vintage Books/Random House. ISBN: 9780679745402.

Humanity

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Timothy Black

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