There is no such thing as a free lunch. Really, there isn’t. Someone somewhere had to pay for it. In his article titled “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”, Neil Postman takes this cliché to the next level. Basically, Postman iterates that technology is not as great as everyone claims it to be. He gives five convincing arguments to support his view that technology does cost us. The price is high; are we willing to pay it?
His first point can be summed up in a simple sentence: “for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.” Medical technology, for example, offers amazing advances that keep us alive longer. However, these same technologies also cause unique ailments (E.G. x-rays). Postman uses his article to ask if we really are willing to pay the price. When I read this first argument, I immediately thought of the cell phone paradox. These devices certainly give us the convenience of personal communication anytime and anywhere, but at what cost? Studies have linked cell phone EMF radiation to cancer—specifically brain cancer. Again, these technologies are remarkable breakthroughs, but we need to ask ourselves what price we are paying for the use of them.
Skipping down to Postman’s fourth argument, I found it interesting that he states that technology doesn’t add to the culture it comes in contact with—technology forces society to transform to the standards that it (the technology) sets. Think back to when television became popular. The “boob tube” changed society from top to bottom. Social gatherings slowly evolved from families sharing meals with each other to guys getting together to watch the game. Instead of social gatherings being about people, they became about entertainment. Postman say it best:
“A new medium does not add something; it changes everything . . . After television, America was not America plus television. Television gave a new coloration to every political campaign, to every home, to every school, to every church, to every industry, and so on.”
This brings it all back to the first argument. Are we willing to accept new technologies despite all the change—good and bad—that these advances bring with them? This is a question we need to carefully consider.