An examination of Neil Postman's chapter "The Judgement of Thamus" in Technopoly - by David Wood
The main argument this book explores is not between humanists and scientists, but between technology and everybody else. Most people believe that technology is a friend. It is a friend that asks for trust and obedience, which most give because its gifts are bountiful. The dark side it that it creates a culture without moral foundation, undermines certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living. Technology is both a friend and enemy. The book tries to explain when, how and why technology became a particularly dangerous enemy.
In the first chapter of Technopoly, author Neil Postman recounts the story from Plato’s Phaedrus of King Thamus of Upper Egypt. “For people such as ourselves,” Postman writes, “who are inclinded … to be tools of our tools, few legends are more instructive than his.” (Postman, 1992, p.3) The legend speaks of Thamus’ assessment and judgment of god Theuth’s many inventions that included numbers, calculation, geometry, astronomy, and writing. It is on the technology of writing that Postman picks up the story. The inventor Theuth introduces writing as a tool that would improve both “wisdom and knowledge” of the king’s subjects. As the legend goes, Thamus respectfully disagreed stating, “Those who acquire [writing] will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not memory.” (Postman, 1992, p.4) Of concern for Thamus, Postman describes, are the damaging effects of writing to memory and the subsequent establishment of false wisdom among his subjects. For Thamus, this technology was nothing short of a burden to his society. Elaborating on Thamus’ judgments of the technology of writing, Postman believes...
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