DOREEN
You may have watched our recent videos on how we think about the role of technology in our lives and want to learn more about the subject, so we have some resources you might find useful.

RICHARD
For most of these recommendations though you’re going to have to turn to an older technology – so not video. The first book – a book is after all a kind of technology – is not about technology per se. It’s The Decadent Society by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. He’s just a phenomenal writer and the argument he makes in this book is that we’ve actually stopped advancing as a society including in the technological realm and that what counts for technological progress now is mostly illusion. Basically we’ve eaten all the low–hanging fruit and now we’re stagnating. Anyway, he makes a compelling argument.

DOREEN
I’ve mentioned Neil Postman’s 1992 book Technopoly a bunch of times in this series and that’s because it’s just really good and also quite accessible in a way other books on technology aren’t (looking at Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media here which I found kind of inscrutable but at least I now know where the phrase “the medium is the message” comes from). Anyway the basic thrust of Postman’s book is that modern society has allowed technology to trump everything else – in a way made an idol of technology – and has made efficiency and increased profitability the highest good.

RICHARD
There’s a short essay from Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint–Exupery (all you Little Prince fans out there I see you) – the essay’s called “The Tool” and in it he goes after the moralists who attack the machine as the source of all the ills we bear. Understandable of course because of de Saint–Exupery's love affair with airplanes but one argument he makes is that we lack the perspective to judge the transformations wrought by technology because they’ve all happened so quickly. I guess his argument is “Patience! You might not get it but your great–great–grandchildren will.” Which is very comforting and I’m not sure at all that I agree with him but it’s still worth a read.

DOREEN
I also want to recommend “The Frailest Thing” which is a collection of blog posts by Michael Sacasas ruminating on the meaning of technology. I particularly like one post “10 points of unsolicited advice for tech writers” – with stuff like “the observation that human beings have always used technology is not a cogent response to the criticism of particular technologies. The use of a pencil does not entail my endorsement of genetic engineering.”

RICHARD
Yeah, he has a post in there about the technological sublime – sort of the awe and religious veneration that Americans had for technological progress (think skyscrapers and the Apollo moon landings) – and how that held America together. And then maybe that’s why, when the technological sublime runs dry (back to Douthat’s argument) there’s not much left to hold us together which is why we’ve become so disunited as a country. Interesting thought. Tim Wu also has some reflections in The New Yorker which are worth reading particularly the idea that human beings have a biological need to be challenged. When technology removes the process by which you arrive at an end, it’s not always a good thing. Michael Sacasas calls it “the frictionless life” and says what we desire is wrapped up with the means not just the ends. If you could really just do a direct download of information or skills like Neo in The Matrix would that give you the same reward as achieving those things through work?

DOREEN
That’s one of my favorite scenes! I would at least like to try a direct download of something. We’ll wrap this one up with a line from an open letter the Black Panthers wrote to Ronald Reagan in 1969 “The spirit of the people is greater than man’s technology!”

RICHARD
Power to the people. Subscribe and see you next time.