Don’t let technology control you

Curtis Powers

Neil Postman once said, “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”

If you are not familiar with Postman, I encourage you to read his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.” It was one of the most formative books I read as an undergraduate.

The book was published in 1985, the year after George Orwell had predicted Big Brother would have taken over. He thought Orwell was wrong.

On the other hand, he thought Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World,” was right.

His foreword is particularly revealing. In it he states, “But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one …

“Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy and the centrifugal bumblepuppy …

“In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

Even though that was written 25 years ago, Postman’s message is still relevant today. His main argument was that we need to think through how new technology will change the way we think, learn, etc.

We shouldn’t just passively accept new technology and assume it will make our lives better. Often, there are hidden, unintended consequences to new technology.

Take for instance the e-book. Studies have shown that reading an e-book on an e-reader like a Kindle is vastly different from reading a regular old book.

People tend to skim the text more, read slower and not be able to remember what they read as well.

I don’t remember everything Postman talked about in his book. However, I do remember one part that caused me to change the way I lived.

So back in the 1980s, he was primarily concerned with the television’s effect on people. In one section, I think he wanted you to think as an anthropologist and ask yourself this question.

If you came into your place of living, what would you say is very important to you based on the way your furniture and other things were set up?

In most cases, as was mine, the television is the center point of the room. Everything is based around it. Therefore, the television is more important to you than say, people are.

This struck me so much that I decided to change around the furniture in my living room at the time to become more people-centered.

Eventually, I decided to forgo having a television altogether because of that idea and the fact that I generally wasted a lot of time watching shows I didn’t actually want to watch. I just couldn’t turn away because it was like a drug to me.

It was probably one of the better decisions I’ve made in my life. When I compare my actions in the presence of a TV and in a context without one, there is a drastic difference.

For instance, I don’t think I would be married to my wife today if I hadn’t made that move. It’s that big of a difference.

So I want to encourage you to evaluate the technology you interact with. How does it affect your life? Maybe even ask if you need to take a break from it. Who knows, maybe then you’ll actually have to time to meet a future mate.