Postman’s View of Technological Change

Our course work this week introduced us to a speech by a man called Neil Postman who spoke in 1998 about “Five things we need to know about technological change”. 

  1. All technology is a trade-off.
  2. Every new technology benefits some and harms others.
  3. Embedded in every great technology is an epistemological, political or social prejudice.
  4. The consequences of technological change are often vast, unpredictable and largely irreversible.
  5. Media tend to become mythic i.e. accepted that is just always has been.

The above link will give a more in-depth discussion of each idea. I found this a great essay to read and it really connected with me. I was born in the 70’s, so my upbringing was largely technology free. I can recall the first time my parents purchased a colour television and we all sat around and marvelled at the technology. I grew up in a time without mobile phones until I was in my 20’s. My brother who had his own business from the age of 19, had one of the first portable/mobile phones which he carried around in a big case and was about the same size as a home phone. He also had the first video player in our family which had a cord attached to the remote control. When he was out I would sneak into his room to watch a video and thought it was all very exciting. He also had one of the first video games – The ‘Atari’, that looked just like the one pictured.


Atari image: (

He had all the latest and coolest technology of that time. I received my first piece of technology at the age of about 13. It was a Mario brothers game, which I still have today and it still works. Technology today unfortunately is not made to last a long time and why should it as it will be obsolete in 2 years and discarded for the next latest and greatest. It has unfortunately taught the younger generation to become a throw away society. Technology moving so fast has come at the expense of poor third world countries. This problem related to not only Postman’s #2 idea but also #4. The UN states that millions of mobile phones, laptops, tablets, toys, digital cameras and other electronic devices bought this Christmas are destined to create a flood of dangerous “e-waste” that is being dumped illegally in developing countries. A sad but true fact.

We have seen a rapid increase in technology over the past 20 years and it is always changing and evolving equally at a rapid pace. An example of these rapid changes is the ATM machines. I found myself the other day at an ATM trying to touch the screen and it was not working because it was an out-dated model that still used buttons!

My Father has managed thus far to avoid technology. He grew up on a farm where for most of his childhood they had no electricity. He is one of the few unaffected by the advance of technology, largely thanks to my Mum who does all the bill paying and banking online, so my Dad does not have to interact with it at all. He is still able to walk into a bank and withdraw cash, he does not use a credit card or have a mobile phone and wouldn’t know how to turn a computer on, much less use one… but then again, he doesn’t need to.

I concur with a lot Neil Postman said and in particular number 1. There are I believe many trade off’s with technology. One that comes to mind is family time. Has technology eroded the family unit? There are more broken families than ever before now and I try to still use old-fashioned values with my son that I grew up doing with my family i.e. spending time as a family eating dinner, with no technologies interrupting. When I was a child we would eat dinner and then play cards or a board game. When television came along there weren’t many channels and not much on anyway, so this didn’t impact on our routine. Now so many families eat separately while watching t.v. with family discussions around the table being the loser. It is a rule in our house now to sit at the dinner table with no phones and talk about our day. I am determined that technology won’t stop us from connecting and talking. There are many great benefits to technology, BUT we must not let it rule our lives, rather, use it wisely to enhance our lives. Everything in moderation.

If you would like to read an example of Postman’s 5th idea – (technology tends to become mythic), check out Ally Austin’s blog, where she talks about the old dial telephone her parents still have in their home.

I would love to know other’s thoughts on this, please feel free to comment.


One thought on “Postman’s View of Technological Change

  1. Wow Kylie – you’ve just brought back some old memories. My brother had a video game called Parsec that I was occasionally allowed to play when I was younger. I also remember mobile phones being really big and heavy, nothing like that of today.

    One point you mention that I strongly agree with is the change in family dynamics. Many families don’t eat together anymore and for this reason I insist on my girls and I eating our evening meal together (my husband works in another city during the week). On weekends we eat together as a whole family without the DVD or iPad on (another change of the times – we don’t watch TV in China, we watch PPTV, a Chinese website that has thousands of TV shows and movies we can watch and download on the iPad). My girls don’t appreciate this right now but I hope that when they grow up they remember how close we were/are as a family and that most of our meals were together.


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