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The following article is a completely revised version of a text first written in Fench under the title "Technopoly" as part of a course given at Fribourg University, Switzerland.
This article is part of a special report about Strategies of opposition to technology. See also "Luddites passed and present" and "Some thoughts about strategies for saying no".

Loving resistance fighters

In his book, "Technopoly, The Surrender of Culture to Technology" about the deification of technology by society, Neil Postman talks of what he calls "loving resistance fighters". He characterises them by listing a number of limits that such "fighters" set on modern concepts and ways of doing things. Setting limits is at the heart of countering technopoly, for the major problem with technopoly is that the use of technology continually transgresses limits and seeks to apply its logic where it is quite out of place, if not devastating. Note that the limits Postman mentions embrace a much wider thought system than that of technological considerations alone.

  • One needs to be wary of opinion polls, especially when we don't know what questions where asked;
  • Efficiency is not the pre-eminent goal in human relations;
  • The magic of numbers is limited, the magic of progress, too;
  • Mathematical calculations are no substitute for human judgement;
  • Information is not synonymous with understanding;
  • Age is not equitable with uselessness or lack of pertinence;
  • When touching or being touched by someone, we generally expect that person to be physically present;
  • Science is not the sole source of truth - the great religious narratives need to be taken seriously;
  • For all its ingenuity, technology is not the ultimate in human achievement.

Keeping a distance

Postman insists that those who resist technology must keep a psychic and epistemological distance with respect to technology, such that it always seems somehow strange, never inevitable and never natural. Keeping a distance from technology is a difficult exercise as technology, seen as an extension of ourselves following MacLuhan's perception of media, asks for nothing better than to become one with us, its users. Tools are all the more efficient the less our use of them requires effort or thought. Just compare your first attempts at driving with how you drive today to discover how important our automatic reactions are. Wanting to nourish a certain strangeness in our relationship to tools is likely to diminish their efficiency. On the other hand, not keeping our distance with respect to technology, could well result in us being led astray by technology or rather by the personal agendas of purveyors of technology.

Proximity and distance

But is there necessarily a contradiction between the "proximity" required for efficient use of technology and the "distance" essential to deciding on its place in society? Is it not possible to be in direct symbiosis with technology in its use and simultaneously be able to step back when taking decisions about society? Having said that, I wonder if a person whose main aim is to promote the use of these tools is in a position to be able to take a step back and consider society without necessarily pushing technology up-stage. One of the reasons I imagine our zealot would have difficulties is the question of values. When promoting technology is a given at the outset, I suspect that taking into consideration other values becomes somewhat difficult. When the scenario begins with technology, it is likely to end with that technology taking a disproportionate place with respect to all else. One strategy then, having recognised the drive to make technology all embracing, consists of cultivating the ability to view technology as separate from us, as not human, as intrinsically somewhat strange.

Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise.

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey,
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Created: July 1st, 2001 - Last up-dated: July 1st, 2001