Assembling the heterogeneous elements for digital learning

Postman’s – 5 things to know about technological change and e-learning

In doing a quick search for references to help out in the last post, I came across this page, which appears to be a transcript of a speech given by Neil Postman title “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change”. According to this post (that page has gone away, so a new link to a PDF transcript)it “was delivered by Postman in 1998 to a gathering of theologians and religious leaders in Denver, Colorado.”

Given my current and recent fascination with “Past Experience and e-learning, I particularly like these couple of quotes from Postman’s address.

Experiencing technological change as sleep-walkers

In the past, we experienced technological change in the manner of sleep-walkers. Our unspoken slogan has been “technology über alles,” and we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.

And this one on who should be allowed to talk about new information technologies.

One might say, then, that a sophisticated perspective on technological change includes one’s being skeptical of Utopian and Messianic visions drawn by those who have no sense of history or of the precarious balances on which culture depends. In fact, if it were up to me, I would forbid anyone from talking about the new information technologies unless the person can demonstrate that he or she knows something about the social and psychic effects of the alphabet, the mechanical clock, the printing press, and telegraphy. In other words, knows something about the costs of great technologies.

I do believe that Postman is often thought as a simple Luddite. As against technology entirely. There are almost certainly other limitations on his work, however, the following quote suggests he’s not a Luddite

We must not delude ourselves with preposterous notions such as the straight Luddite position.

The 5 things

You really should read the address, but here’s a summary.

  1. Culture always pays a price for technology.
    e.g. cars and pollution (and many other less obvious examples).
  2. There are always winners and losers in a technological change.
  3. Every technology embodies a philosophy, an epistemological, political or social prejudice.
    The printing press de-values the oral tradition.
  4. Technological change is not additive, it is ecological.
    The invention of the printing press in Europe, did not create “old Europe + the printing press”. It created a new and different Europe.
  5. Technology becomes mythic, it becomes seen as part of the natural order of things.

Application to e-learning

How might this apply to e-learning – I don’t have time right now – but you might wish to take a look at this post which leverages Postman’s points into a series of questions for the use of ICTs in schools

One quick example before I go, in terms of technology being mythic, see what happens when you suggest to a university that they get rid of their learning management system. Even more mythic, what do you think would happen if you suggested getting rid of lecture theatres?

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