Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reading and Other Matters

By David Horn, ThD
Director, The Ockenga Institute

Ever have one of those books you were embarrassed to say you hadn’t read but were afraid to admit it? You know, the kind of book you feel you would be caught with your pants down if someone asked you to weigh in on it for some reason: “You mean, you haven’t read such-and-such?”
So it is with Neil Postman’s Technology. I just finished it and feel guilty about having not read it a long time ago. I could not put it down. Now I can say to you, my readers, “What do you think of Postman’s view on the pervasive role of technology in American culture?” “What, you haven’t read it? You really need to do so.”
With this grand confession behind me, I actually don’t have a large quantity to say about the book itself except to say that, at its core, Postman reminds us of that most profound truth that the things that influence us the most in our day-to-day lives are the most subtle and evasive. We think we control our lives by sheer force of our own awareness of these influences. But like all things cultural, we are as much servants as kings of our own domains.
So embedded are our perceptions, in fact, in the “taken for granted” nature of the cultures surrounding us that we are rarely conscious of how these cultural phenomena affect us and the others around us. Like an iceberg in the North Atlantic sea, we may well be able to see and understand a small part of how our influences work and affect our lives, but it is the vast underworld beneath the waterline that is most telling. It is this underworld of culture that James Hunter says, in his book, To Change the World, that is most deceptively strong because culture is “most powerful…when it is perceived as self-evident.”
Such, says Postman, is the case especially with the technologies that fill our lives. We are often unconscious victims of the very tools we think we control. And by tools, he is not just speaking of the mechanical and electronic devices that fill our lives--computers, toasters, mp3 devices, and the like. Language, as we now use it, is a technological tool. How about polling? Think about how our values are being controlled now by the mere fact that we can almost instantaneously determine that 47% versus 53% now believe such and such is right. And, we now live in a world where we can know the most minute details of the most mundane set of facts immediately, all at our googled fingertips.
Our world is too much with us and we don’t even know it. I wonder how these technologies shape us ever so subtly? What is that Christian virtue of ‘patience’ you ask, for example? At one time, patience was that human enterprise that stretched out between spring-time when my grandfather farmer put his potato seedlings in and the fall when he pulled the potatoes out of the ground. For me, patience has been reduced to a milla-second as I pound on the side of my computer because it isn’t fast enough. Patience completely redefined and I don’t even know it!
Speaking of patience, I have got to end. I need to download my next book on my iPad.

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