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Core Philosophy: Building A Bridge To The 18th Century

Any fool can have an opinion; to know what one needs to know to have an opinion is wisdom; which is another way of saying that wisdom means knowing what questions to ask about knowledge.

I was first introduced to Niel Postman in 2015. A friend of mine suggested: “Building A Bridge To The 18th Century.” Initially, I was skeptical because the book didn’t sound appealing to me, and I’m very picky when it comes to what I choose to read. Despite my preconceived notions, I gave it a shot and I ended up really enjoying the book.

Some of the core philosophies in the book are thought-provoking.

Our modern reliance for technology will lead us into being an antisocial society. His problem wasn’t so much with the technology itself, but with the technophiles who are obsessed with seeing where technology could go, rather than asking if it should even go that far to begin with. We must be able to see the downsides of things, not only the upsides.

Although this is not directly related to what he’s talking about, it reminds me of the people who constantly think: “I need to make more money.” If you’re wondering if you could make more money, yes is probably the answer. Should you, though? I don’t know, that requires analysis. But as Dave Ramsey says: “When you start living on a budget, you feel like you’re getting a raise.” Could and Should are not interchangable.

Given that this book was written in 1999, I’d say it’s ahead of its time.

Looking at this book from a historical standpoint, a lot of what he said has come to fruit.

In one part of the book, he brings up a book entitled: Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte who wrote: “We will find that we are talking as much or more with machines than we are to humans.”

Just look at the world we live in today. We talk to Alexa, order food off of Grubhub, we write on websites like Medium instead of having deep conversations in-person, etc. That’s not to say technology is bad, but that we must be really cautious in the way we choose to use the technology we possess because all of it really takes away from the human experience. We shouldn’t rely on it, but utilize it without attachment or necessity. We’re more connected to humans but in a not-so-human way. It’s not as authentic, something about the human experience gets lost in translation.

I don’t think I fully agree with Postman here, because I do think technology has helped improve the world we live in. Technology has personally helped me succeed in life.

But some other points?

During this quarantine, for example, everyone would get sick if they went to medical offices instead of having video visits. Remote work for those who need it or can’t come in, is just another great aid. Again, it’s about balance, but Postman still makes some valid arguments. I’d wager that it’s more about how we as humans latch onto things rather than what we latch onto.

We should be suspicious of people who say that it’s important to look ahead into the future to see where we’re headed. We actually need to look back at history to find wisdom so that we can tackle the future appropriately and with sufficient information. There’s nothing to look at when you’re looking “ahead.” We should look at our past as a place of reference.

The future is, of course, an illusion. Nothing has happened there yet. What Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, California, we may say of the future: There is no there there. Among Marshall McLuhan’s many intriguing metaphors, the most paradoxical one is his reference to “rearview mirror” thinking. All of us, he said, are speeding along a highway with our eyes fixed on the rearview mirror, which can tell us only where we have been, not what lies ahead.

One of my favorite quotations from the book. I think it’s important to build on the skill of being able to look behind so that we may now know where we want to go. That is, without repeating mistakes that may hinder our ability to learn from the past so that we can build upon it to create any potential future.

Think, for example, of how the words ‘community’ and ‘conversation’ are now 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. Tocqueville used the phrase “an ethic of reciprocity” to delineate what is at the heart of community life.

I think the way we use social media (Instagram, Twitther, Facebook) as a “community” is nothing short of cancerous, in many ways. People now seem to have very fragile egos that if one were to disagree with them, they are demeaned, unfollowed, and constantly yelled at through comments.

On the flip side, I think what’s being discussed here in general is the attitude of humans and us being unenlightened.

The book, from what I remember, was about the importance of enlightenment and how we didn’t necessarily need a new future, but that we needed to revisit history under the idea that “progress is one of the greatest gifts of Enlightenment.”

I need to read this book again because writing this just reminded me of the joy I had reading this book. So much to process!

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