Earlier tonight we had a retrospective on Marshall McLuhan by Paul Schumann, a futurist, co-founder of the Central Texas World Future Society, co-founder of the Innovation Commons Network, and a member of Texas Forums. Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980) was a Canadian educator, philosopher, scholar, academic, professor of English literature, communications theorist and one of the founders of the study of media ecology. (Archive will be posted in the Opal Online Archive in the next few days.)
Reading about McLuhan’s ideas in the monograph prepared by Paul Schumann reminded me of Neil Postman’s book, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of Schools. Postman argued that our education system should prepare students not to use the tools we shape, but to understand how our tools shape us, particularly technology. I, for one, am fascinated by the way in which technology can create connections and perhaps take democracy to scale as discussed in the essays in Extreme Democracy, technology ideas I have explored on this blog. But I am also acutely aware that It is all too easy to be seduced by technology. I appreciate the challenges Postman offers when he ponders what our students should know about technology and how they should think about its impact.
Postman outlines ten principles that education should include if we are to truly have technology education (as opposed to the teaching of how to USE the technology). They are worth noting and discussing. I have added some starter questions in bold:
- All technological change is a Faustian bargain. For every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. What technological advantages apply to our interest in promoting civil discourse and taking democracy to scale and what are the corresponding disadvantages?
- The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others. How are these technologies distributed? When disparities exist, what alternative low-tech options exist to mitigate these disparities?
- Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. Like language itself, a technology predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives, and accomplishments and to subordinate others. Every technology has a philosophy, which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. What are the philosophies expressed in how
- A new technology usually makes war against an old technology. It competes with it for time, attention, money, prestige, and a “worldview.” What technologies are at war? HDTV vs. analog?
- Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything. Examples?
- Because of the symbolic forms in which information is encoded, different technologies have different intellectual and emotional biases. How do these biases affect our ability to interact deliberatively with each other?
- Because of the accessibility and speed of their information, different technologies have different political biases. This is related to item #2 so the same questions apply.
- Because of their physical form, different technologies have different sensory biases. How does this impact our objective to take democracy to scale? How do we relate the different sensory biases to different learning styles?
- Because of the conditions in which we attend to them, different technologies had different biases. Again, how do we bring these biases to light and what steps do we take to mitigate them?
- Because of their technical and economic structure, different technologies have different content biases. Does this potential content bias preclude us from using different technologies to stimulate dialogue and gather the results of public interaction into a coherent public voice?
I do not believe technology is a blank check. You don’t use it, just because you have it. And you don’t use it without considering the larger implications – how our tools shape us – and the potential devastation that could result.
So how do we move forward using new media and technology thoughtfully in an environment that is chaotic, organic, self-organizing, evolving, challenging, divisive, frightening, fun, hectic, and booming with possibilities that we cannot imagine much less understand?