A technology’s “ideological bias” can ultimately change the way we think and act both as individuals and as a society.
In his essay “The Judgement of Thamus,” Neil Postman claims that “once a technology is admitted [to a culture], it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do” (155). New tools and technologies do not just grant us novel capabilities and conveniences but change us in numerous ways according to their “ideological bias” or, in other words, their “predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing over another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another” (160). A technology’s “ideological bias” can ultimately change the way we think and act both as individuals and as a society. “New technologies,” Postman writes, “alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. They alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop” (166).
Please respond to the above prompt with a short (three-to-four paragraph) essay, explaining what the technology in the attached document (RESEARCH PAPER.docx) “is designed to do” and how it changes “our interests,” “our symbols,” and/or our “community.”
PLEASE USE THE BELO<em “=”” style=”box-sizing: border-box;”>W NOTES TO ANSWER THE QUESTION
In terms of ideological bias, Postman means that tools and technologies, including what he calls “invisible technologies” (like “quantitative” grading) encourage people to act and think a certain way. Hence, Postman cites “the old adage that, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail” to help explain what he means. This adage suggests that people with hammers will want to use them, even for tasks better suited for other tools. They will, in other words, see the world with the hammer’s use in mind. Now, take grading. Postman asks us to consider the practice of “assigning marks or grades to the answers students give on examinations. This procedure,” he reminds us, “seems so natural to most of us that we are hardly aware of its significance. We may even find it difficult to imagine that the number or letter is a tool or, if you will, a technology” but it is, and, furthermore, things didn’t always work this way—according to Postman’s history, we’ve only been doing this for about 200 years. But if you think about what happens as a result of giving “a quantitative value” to student work, you see the implications: evaluators might prefer exams with definite answers (even to somewhat open-ended questions), and they must, no matter the assignment, translate student work into numerically coded values (say, 20 points for a good essay introduction, 10 points for a good Works Cited page, etc.). Postman isn’t saying that quantitative evaluation is useless, just that it inclines people toward certain values and perhaps even certain philosophical conclusions. Such practices as quantitative grading suggest to people that almost anything can be turned into a number, and that converting things such as writing ability, intelligence, a slam dunk, or pain in medical triage, into numbers is good, perhaps optimal, or at least clearer and more efficient than other modes of thinking and assessment. Postman wants us to interrogate the technopolistic premise that numbers, and the apparent certainty they represent, are better than other forms of information. We should be especially critical of these biases today, since we live in an age of computers, and computers, if I can generalize and anthropomorphize for a moment, like numbers.
In terms of the stuff about “our interests,” “our symbols,” and/or our “community,” I’ll explain a bit more below. Regarding the phrase “our interests,” Postman claims, “New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about.” So, take video games as an example. Video games are a relatively new technology, and they definitely changed what “we think about”: we not only think about the games themselves, but we increasingly want to see the video game experience translated into other media, such as movies, such as Ready Player One, Tomb Raider and Sonic the Hedgehog. You can find a whole list of them on Wikipedia. Plus, app and software developers try to mimic the addictive pleasures of video games all the time by “gamifying” things (for example, Facebook gamifies friendships by implicitly encouraging people to see how many friends they can collect or how may Likes they can get on a post, like a high score).
In terms of symbols, you can think of this, mostly, as synonymous with language and communication. That’s reductive, but it will get you started. Think of texting or any comparable messaging application. People use abbreviations, gifs, memes, and emoticons to text each other; we didn’t always communicate this way. But early web structures and values, including rapid, accessible digital communication, shared access to online information, including huge repositories of visual information, and the need for bold, transparent signifiers (😊) in the absence of irl voice tone and body language encouraged us to text/message the way we do. And now we write and even talk differently as a result. But symbols are more than that; we have to think of symbols in the literary sense too: think of the computer, which is a symbol of, among other things, efficiency. The computer is also a symbol of modern commerce and sociality. So, in terms of your tech, think about what how it affects communication and symbols and the meaning of images in the social sphere.
In terms of “community,” Postman wants us to think of how new and influential tech affects how we interact. I think this part is pretty clear, so I won’t go on and on about this, but just think of social media: we socialize online, which means that we often interact with friends while staring at a screen.
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