A Faustian Bargain

In his final pages of The End of Education Postman offers a list of ten principles that should be included in the teaching of technology if it were a core subject in school (p. 192). His first principal states, “All technological change is a Faustian bargain. For every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.” We have heard similar prose from Postman before in one of our first readings from Technopoly where he states that, “every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that.” In light of his thought, I have come up with a list of three (fairly new) technologies and will write about an advantage and the corresponding disadvantage for each.

Email: This technology has the advantage of giving us a way to connect with other people. We can write to them at times we might not be able to step away and make a call or at an hour where the call would disturb the recipient. It gives us the opportunity to keep track of our correspondence with people and we can organized them into little folders. We can write a long distance email to Korea essentially for free (all you need is an Internet connection, if you don’t have one you can go to the public library and use theirs (because I don’t think they’d be too keen on you asking to use their phone to make a long distance call to Korea).
A disadvantage of email that comes to mind first is the fact that we are essentially always available – most specifically with work. I am expected to check my work email when I am not at work and be ready to answer questions or take care of other tasks even though I’m not being paid. Another is that there are people who do not use email and therefore if email is your primary mode of communication it is difficult to keep in touch with people who choose not to use it. I suppose that isn’t a disadvantage to email (more a disadvantage to the person who chooses not to use it).

Google: An advantage of Google is the ability to access tons of information at the push of a button. The ability to search the Internet for any piece of information you are looking for. You can find answers to virtually all of your questions…even ones like: Will computers take over the world?? However, this leads us to one of our disadvantages, the reliability of the information. As you can see from the answer to that question anyone can post information on the web and Google will take you to it. This is something that many young people do not understand, they do not realize that the results are based on popularity, not reliability. Google gives us the ability to search for all types of information, but doesn’t exactly teach us or our students good search skills. I have an Internet scavenger hunt that I have my kids do for sub plans if I’m out. My hope was that students would pick the key words from the questions and find the information based on that, but instead they just Google the whole question…then when they want to search a database, they do the same thing and they get zero results. Should we blame Google for conditioning them to search this way? Ask.com has enabled this problem even more.

Facebook: I chose this social networking site because it’s probably the one I am most familiar with right now. I think one of the advantages of this site is being able to keep in touch with or get in touch with people from various stages in your life. When the site was first introduced to me you had to have a school email address to join and networks were made up from the schools that you attended. Since then, it has expanded and you can join with any email address and join area networks like Baltimore or school networks like Towson, but school networks need to be verified in some way. One of the disadvantages might be people from your past who you don’t necessarily want to keep in touch with tracking you down. Sure, you can ignore their request to be your friend (which sounds a lot meaner than it actually is), but it makes for an awkward meeting the next time you see them in person. I wonder if Facebook is ruining the idea of a high school or college reunion? First, there are those awkward run-ins with people who requested to be your friend and you denied them. If they are your friend on Facebook there’s not a whole lot to catch up on because you’ve posted on eachothers walls a few times and done the small talk of what are you up to these days, etc.

I’m sure that the advantages and disadvantages that I have come up with are much more simple than the way that Postman might analyze these technologies.  He’d point out loss of productivity at work, the thought that students could teach themselves with the vast amount of information available to them indexed by Google etc. but I feel like Postman gives these things too much credit sometimes.  Though as Bill pointed out, he’s from a different era than me, so he sees things in a different light.


5 responses to “A Faustian Bargain

  1. This is a great post Erin. It is similar to what I was looking for with the Ellul assignment. It is interesting to consider the negatives of all that we do when we often see the positives far outweighing anything negative or simply accept the negative as part of the convenience… probably something Roszak is exactly the problem.
    I like the technologies you have chosen; I can’t say much against your Google argument and know little to nothing about Facebook, but I was considering what you posed as a negative of email. Before email we were still in contact with work and in an even more personal and intrusive way, that being the home phone without Caller ID – that was annoying.

    • This is true about the phone having been the way that our coworkers and students would get in touch with us before email. I still do get calls from my students and I hate that, I wish they would just email me – I am not a phone person at all. On the other hand if a student has a homework question at 10:00 on a Thursday night they aren’t going to call me, they’ll email me. Even if I don’t see the email until the following day, I give them credit for trying to get help. I remember Andy talking about something he read about students asking questions of teachers via email that they wouldn’t normally ask at all or informing them of things they wouldn’t usually come right out and say (something about partying too hard the night before?).

  2. It’s interesting that you used the word “information” to discuss the advantages that Google has to offer people. Is this information actually “knowledge,” as Roszak constantly expresses in his writings? If I want to learn the answer to “Will computers take over the world?” I could use Google, or I could go down to the Inner Harbor and take a poll. Maybe I would receive different answers, maybe I wouldn’t. What sort of questions were on your Internet scavenger hunt? Google is not really supposed to be a teacher of good searching skills. Depending on the information you are looking for, one may need to search specific keywords or do research before finding an answer.

    With regard to Facebook, it seems that you are looking at it from more of a local perspective. It’s nearly impossible for me to run into people I went to high school and/or college with because I’m not from the area. Additionally, I am now “friends” with people I haven’t talked to in years. I used to work at an amusement park back in Louisville, so I started a Facebook group for the park. Within 36 hours, I had more than 100 people in the group. Now there are a little more than 300. I see names and faces of people I completely forgot about. During the holidays, we had a small reunion, although we didn’t receive a huge turnout. I’m hoping maybe to coordinate something again in the summer so that more people can hang out again. It’s true, though, that there could be stalkers out there lurking!

    • Re: Google You’re right, information and knowledge can be very different things. Here is an example question from my Internet Scavenger Hunt: “When was George Fox born? What is he well known for at Friends School?” I would expect the kids to search using some of the key words (which are bolded here but not on the worksheet). Answering the second question requires a little more critical thinking than the first. The students who receive this are given specific instructions to choose key words and perform an Internet search (not necessarily Google). It’s a playful and easy assignment, but shows that our students don’t always apply what they learn in their Information Literacy class (part of which teaches them to identify key words and perform searches utilizing tools other than Google).

      Re: Facebook I was looking at it based on my experience with it and I only live a few hours from where I went to high school and I do go down there a few times a year because my parents still live in that area. I tend to run into people when I’m there because a lot of them never left, my sister and I dread going to WalMart…you’re pretty much guaranteed to run into someone you know there (and usually it’s those people you don’t want to see). Now with Facebook you seem to be out of small talk because you know they are married and have 2 kids and a dog named Rover and you know they don’t want to go to work tomorrow (thanks status updates!).

  3. See, now you can avoid going to Wal-Mart when you see people’s status messages when you don’t want to run into them. What is that called, unstalking? 🙂

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