Neils Postman – On informing ourselves to death


This speech was given at a meeting of the German Informatics Society (Gesellschaft fuer Informatik) on October 11, 1990 in Stuttgart, sponsored by IBM-Germany by Neils Postman.

Click here to read the speech. [Source : http://www.mat.upm.es/~jcm/postman-informing.html ]

I would suggest you first read his speech and then continue with my blog post – simply because I don’t want you to be prejudiced against any of the views given by him.

The following is my view on what he had said.

I wanted to give a fresh and out of my heart view on this speech and therefore I avoided reading the comments by others.

Here’s my thoughts after reading it.

First of all I am not going to bisect each and every idea that he has presented. I am looking at only the core message I got from his speech. Moreover, I don’t  want to sound philosophical, partly (read it “mostly”) because I am talking to all of you guys :).

From what I’ve observed (which is far less compared to everyone else :)), I can’t find a reason to counter-debate his views. All of us may have experienced this sort of thing: after working on computers – which fascinates me in all ways – going back and then finds our thoughts asking – “What is it that I’ve done today? Did it really help me progress in my long term goals ?” – and then I get a big “NO”.

Well, I agree that the answer depends upon what your long term goals are and how you’ve used the computer for it (or what role does it play). But, I do get such an answer.

That was my emotional (what my heart says) “review” of that speech.
I also present a logical way of “review”.

It is a truth that there is an Information overload, facilitated mainly by computers. Human effort has been to make sense of all these information. Now, it’s upto to us to decide if the information is correct or not. There are methods to do it – Google being one of them. And then we try to develop better information delivery systems, and spent billions on it.

But, at the end of the day, as Neils explains, what’s the meaning in spending all our time and energy on just trying to make the systems better..?? Tomorrow, another technology will replace this and then all of us will run behind making it better, and if we can’t understand it – we are stamped as “loosers”.

I don’t think that’s how the world is designed to work. There are much more important problems we need to solve, and computer can only become a tool for that. And as Neils says, we should be humble enough to accept that we’ve been blessed with a talent (which is nothing related to computers – but a talent to analyse problems, that helps us solve problems related to computers). If we’d been born a thousand years ago, we’d be doing something else – may be less “rewarding” and less “famous” or may be become completely useless in those days. (thanks to Warren Buffett for inducing that thought :) ).

That takes me to the conclusion. I agree with him on the point that “we should be humble enough not to think that technologists rule the world”.

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One response to “Neils Postman – On informing ourselves to death

  1. I completely agree with this viewpoint that you projected. Well written and well informed….Do keep the goo work going….

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