Abstract: Just over 20 years ago media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman (1992) asked two important questions, “What story does American education wish to tell now? In a growing Technopoly, what do we believe education is for” (p. 174)? The first question may seem a peculiar one to many people involved in the day-to-day work of modern schooling where overarching purposes are often lacking. The second requires us to revisit Postman’s critiques regarding the role technologies play in society. Postman would hopefully commend such a reconsideration of these questions as he began his own story in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by revisiting Plato’s tale of Thamus and he continued with the ideas of many thinkers, innovators, skeptics, and technophiles of the last two centuries. He said, “we listen to their conversations, join in it, and revitalize it” (p. 20). I hope to do the same in this article.
Postman’s (1992) basic contention is that modern America has subordinated cultural traditions and varied ways of knowing for the scientific progress supposedly embedded in prevailing technologies. I was drawn to Postman’s writing because my teaching and research have increasingly involved the use of social media (e.g., Carpenter & Krutka, 2014a; Krutka, 2014; Krutka, Bergman, Flores, Mason, & Jack, 2014), and I wanted to step back and take stock of the burdens and blessings of the technologies in my classes, our schools, and society at large. I will begin by outlining Postman’s general arguments with particular emphasis on educational talk and appraisals of modernity. I will then examine his ideas in the wake of the rise of participatory media, which arrived on a large scale near the time of his passing in 2003. Postman maintained a skeptical attitude toward technologies, particularly computers; his assessment has even been described as “excessively pessimistic, almost apocalyptic” (Muñoz & El-Hani, 2012, p. 916). However, the rise of participatory media, including Web 2.0 sites and social media platforms, warrants new considerations of Postman’s critiques. These new media provide users platforms that offer innovative, albeit largely unrealized, possibilities for life and education. Specifically, participatory media might supply prospects for the contextualization and purposing of information in an educational environment where this is often absent. I will conclude this discussion with some theoretical and practical implications for schools and society.
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