I don’t agree with everything the late Neil Postman wrote, but I would argue that no other recent scholar gives coherent structure to the last few hundred years in the way his books do. I’m currently re-reading his book, “Technopoly,” and I’m comforted to have a scholar give structure and definitions to things which I’ve observed and barely understood. I was enough of a technophile when I first read this book that I bristled at much of what it said. I didn’t want him to be right and it was easier to dismiss him as a Luddite. But as I see technology continue to enable an information glut which is changing society for the worse, I find comfort in his explanations for how we got here. I don’t yet know the solutions, but I finally understand the problems more clearly. I suspect that much of what we need to make life more meaningful can be found in things we accidentally threw away in the past to make room for technologies. I strongly urge you to read the book and think about its implications.
I’d like to write a modern version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” — a more cynical one — with a realistic ending for today’s audience. In this new version, the little boy points out on social media that the emperor is naked but nobody listens to him. Instead, everybody keeps posting grander and grander praise for the emperor’s non-existent clothes. The cognitive dissonance makes the people unable to hear the child who tells them the truth, because they’re getting social media praise — likes and so forth — for their lies. The confused child eventually feels so defeated that he shuts up and walks away. He’s so hurt and disappointed by this that he withdraws from the world and spends years in therapy, trying to figure out whether the rest of the world is crazy or if he’s the crazy one. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be that little boy, but few want to hear the truth today. Either I’m crazy or else our culture has gone insane.
More and more of what I hear and read today seems like complete nonsense. Even things which most people treat as great wisdom seems ridiculous and shallow to me. Then when I run across ideas and information which seem to be exciting and potentially life-changing to me, I find that most other people’s eyes glaze over when I try to share those things. My uneasiness about this isn’t about politics or ideology or religion. It’s not about one particular interest group or another. It’s something far more fundamental. It seems to be a difference in how we view the world and evaluate foundational information — how we process reason and truth. It feels as though the foundations of the Enlightenment have radically eroded and we’re descending into a new Dark Age in which the philosophical values I hold dear will largely be forgotten. The Western Civilization which has given us such great gifts is in jeopardy — and I fear the things we are proud of today will soon lie in ruins, as has been the fate of so many other great civilizations which have died.