Friday, December 05, 2008

Building a Bridge to the 18th Century

I am reading Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future by Neil Postman for my Sociology Community and Urbanization class. I am having trouble getting started on the essay. My hope is that if I type up all of the quotes that I tagged it would jump start my brain.

On Technology:

"We learned how to invent things, and the question of why receded in importance. The idea that if something could be done, it should be done was born in the nineteenth century. And along with it there developed a profound belief in all the principles through which invention succeeds: objectivity, efficiency, expertise, standardization, measurement, a market economy, and, of course, faith in progress" (Pg 39)

"Think, for example, of how the word 'community' is employed by those who use the Internet. I have the impression that 'community' is now used to mean, simply, people with similar interests, a considerable change from an older meaning: A community is made up of people who may not have similar interests but who must negotiate and resolve their differences for the sake of social harmony." (Pg 53)

On Language:

"You can 'deconstruct' Mein Kampf until doomsday and it will not occur to you that the text is a paean of praise to the Jewish people. Unless, of course, you want to claim that the text can be read as irony, that Hitler is spoofing anti-Semitism. No one can stop you from doing this." (Pg 78)

"There are hose who have taken the act of postmodern reading and writing to the edge of absurdity, as in the case of The grea Postmodern Spoof of 1997. Alan Sokal, a physicist at New York University, submitted a long essay the the journal Social Text, noted for its commitment to postmodern thought. After the essay was published, Sokal revealed that it was complete gibberish from beginning to end. Not error-laden, not overstated, not even an exercise in fantasy. Gibberish." (Pg 80)

He argues in the academic world we should be reading the likes of "Voltaire, Rousseau, Swift, Madison, Condorcet, or many of the writers of the Enlightenment period who believed that, for all of the difficulties in mastering language, it is possible to say what you mean, to mean what you say, and to be silent when you have nothing to say." (Pg 80)

On Information:

In 1690 "One did not give infromation to make another 'informed'. One gave information to make another do something or feel something, and the doing and feeling were themselves part of a larger idea. Information was, in short, a rhetorical instrument, and this idea did not greatly change until the mid-nineteenth century." (Pg 87)

"Storyless information is an inheritance of the nineteenth century, not of the eighteenth. It emerged as a consequence of an extraordinarily succesful effort to solve the problem of limitation in the speed with which information could be moved...The problem addressed in the nineteenth centruy was how to get more information to more people, fater, and in more diverse forms. For 150 years, humanity has worked with stunning ingenuity to solve this problem. The good news is that we have. The bad news is that, in solving it, we have created another problem, never before experienced: information glut, information as garbage, information divorced from purpose and even meaning." (Pg 89)

"Facts are transformed into information only when we take note of them and speak of them, or, in the case of newspapers, write about them. By definition, facts cannot be wrong. They are what they are. Statements about facts - that is, information - can be wrong, and often are. Thus, to say that we live in an unprecendented age of information is merely to say that we have available more statements about the world than we have ever had. This means, among other things, that we have available more erroneous statements than we have ever had. Has anyone been discussing the matter of how we can distinguish between what is true and what is false? Aside from schools, which are supposed to attend to the matter but largely ignore it, is there any institution or medium that is concerned with the problem of misinformation?" (Pg 92)

The worst thins about television or radio news is "that there is no reason offered for why the information is there; no background; no connectedness to anything else; no point of view; no sense of what the audience is supposed to do with the information. It is as if the word "because" is entirely absent from the grammar of broadcast journalism." (Pg 94)

Useing cloning as an example; "Science can only tell us how it works. What can tell us whether or not we should be happy or sad about this? What can tell us if there are policies that need to be developed to control such a process? What can tell us if this is progress or regress? To begin to think about such questions, we would have to be referred to the body of knowledge we call religion, or the body of knowledge we call politics, or the body of knowledge we call sociology. Knowledge cannot judge itself. Knowledge must be judged by other knowledge, and thein lies the essence of wisdom." (Pg 95)

Taking this idea of bodies of knowledge judging other bodies of knowledge he uses the example of journalist interviewing solely military experts concerning matters war. "Is war the business only of military experts? Is what they have to say about war the only perspective citizens need to have? I should think that weapons systems experts would be the last people to be interviewed on the matter of war. Perhaps the absence of any others may be accounted for by saying the first casualty of war is wisdom." (Pg 97)

All of the talk about information really got me thinking about the need for the reoganization of the Internet. I wonder what such a feat would even look like.

This was enough to get me started on my essay. I'll type up quotes from the last half of the book (on Narratives, Children, Democracy, and Education) if I get the chance. Commenting in favor of doing such an act will greatly increase the likely hood of it actually occurring. :)

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