Technopoly by Postman

I know a few people here have read Technopoly now, and it’s one of those books that, 29 years after publishing, seems like one of those things that should have been an awful lot more widely read to help prevent the hellscape we’ve found ourselves in.

Wikipedia has a solid summary, if you’ve not read the book: Technopoly - Wikipedia

And I’ll borrow their summary, because it’s quite concise:

He defines a technopoly as a society in which technology is deified, meaning “the culture seeks its authorisation in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology”. It is characterised by a surplus of information generated by technology, which technological tools are in turn employed to cope with, in order to provide direction and purpose for society and individuals.

He splits societies into three categories based on technology: Tool-using societies, in which tools are simply aids to the existing order, technocracies, in which tools start to influence thinking (invention tends strong in this era), and technopolies, in which the technology is pretty much driving everything. Or, to use a phrase I’ve seen in this context, “You’re a tool of your tools.”

One of his main points is that in a technopoly, “more information” is seem as the solution to any and all problems - even problems that are self-evidently not caused by a lack of information, or problems that are obviously caused by too much information in the first place.

Despite coming out before the internet was really anything beyond an academic curiosity, it does an amazing job of highlighting how our society thinks about technology, and at least offers a few suggestions on how one can right things. Not that they’re likely to matter…

It was a good read, or audiobook listen in my case. A thorough critique of modern tech. It made me realize that this recent wave of kind of anti-tech sentiment has existed even before the recent reactions against the big social media and tech companies. Okay I’m on board with that. Then the followup question, not answered by the book as well, “what do we do about it?”

I think the only thing one can do is try to opt out of it as much as possible. I don’t know exactly what this looks like, but I’m certainly working on opting out of the tech industry consumer electronics circle where I feasibly can. Harder for them to data mine me rolling around the hill on an old tractor…

Ideas welcome - the state of things is pretty well known now, and even people who were really into consumer electronics and assistants and such a few years back seem to be recognizing that it’s turned quite toxic, and it’s a time and money pit because no matter how much you spend, it never quite works right.

Well, Henry Rollin’s scene from Johnny Mnemonic kind of captures my sentiment.

We all probably have food and shelter and could go do anything, yet here we are looking at computer screens by choice. Many knowing its a corrupt ecosystem. So there’s either an addiction, or desire for certain aspects of consumer technology - entertainment, communicating, research, exploration.

What does opting out mean? Not buying the device or opening the account? Or self control when/how you use these things.

is it trying to piece together or find alternative, retro, self hosted, and/or whatever subset of electronics and software that are cheap, liberating, respectful, useful and let you maintain some level of interaction with todays status quo world?

Hadn’t seen that before, but… sounds about right. :confused:

A lot of it, as I see it, comes out of the problem that we’ve lost the concept of opportunity cost. Anything can be spun to have some benefits, even if small, but we don’t look at the downsides. Sure, Twitter back in 2008 or whenever it came out was fun - but even then, we knew that attention can be fragmented and shattered, and the “fun” turned into “addictive” very gradually as they had to figure out how to make money.

The problem is that a lot of the modern stuff started out meaning well, and then gradually morphed, but the change are gradual. I recall my first smartphone - iPhone 3GS. It… was neat, let me SSH into stuff from out at the gun range if I had to kick a server. And it was long before the various addiction-triggering activities had started to be used. Well, a few upgrades later, and… yeah, they’ve gotten evil, but it wasn’t a “Haha, yesterday I was fine, today I am evil!” sort of transition.

That’s about what I’m trying to do now, yes. Self hosted blog/forum, trying to get away from modern computing of the mainstream type and back to lower power ARM Linux boxes, etc.

It’s all of those things, to varying degrees, and to the best of your ability to match your needs and desires against your ideals and the limitations of your society and environment.

For me, since I make my living from various aspects of computer technology, it’s a bit of a difficult choice since in a way every little thing I do to earn money in that field does contradict my desire to scale back the place of computer tech in the world. That ship has very firmly sailed, in the minds of most people in power and in business, and if I wish to take a step away from it, I am almost by definition forced to take a step away from society-as-I-know-it. This is the part that I think requires balance, nuance, and a firmer attention to detail than usual. As @Syonyk pointed out:

And this is it: opening our eyes to the downsides and being willing to look at the externalities and attempt to properly weigh them in with the perceived good - comparing that against alternatives (including going without, and what we’d do instead). To me, this is a process, not a one-time thing. It’s a lifestyle, like trying to live no-waste or low-waste, where you can almost never get it perfectly right, but you can always take steps closer to the ideal or admit that you’re not able to go that far just yet, and keep trying as best as you can.

I’m not throwing all of my tech onto the curb and wearing only fibres I spun myself from sheep I raised on organic land or something, and there is a baseline of “technology” in the whole that is entirely natural and appropriate for humans to use. Finding that baseline is an individual process, unique to each personality and each geographic and social environment. There is no “right” answer, but there are plenty of easily identifiable “wrong” ones.

As the I Ching suggests, if you see good in another, imitate it. If you notice inferior actions or attitudes within yourself, eliminate them.

Certainly. And I’m able to run down the slope a lot further because I’m established, stable, and people just expect it out of me now. A discussion with someone about how they wanted to be paid was, “Well, I’d rather you just use some cash payment app, but I know you’re not going to do that, so a check would be fine, I can scan it myself and get it deposited.” It’s quite literally expected that I’m not fully opted into the tech ecosystems now. I consider this progress.

Though the reactions to the Bananaphone have been eye opening. The almost universal reaction is, “Huh… you know, I could probably use that, except for email/maps…” I show them email/maps on it. “How much is one of those and where did you find it?”

Doing my part to disassemble the smartphone ubiquity…