“Technology always has unforeseen consequences, and it is not always clear, at the beginning, who or what will win, and who or what will lose.”

– Neil Postman

Meaning of the quote

This quotation is very pertinent to the world we live in today, as new technologies continually emerge at an exponential pace. Technology now exists in a highly competitive atmosphere, and developers of new technology find themselves needing to rush to market as soon as they have a working model. In this atmosphere, it is only the benefit of the technology that is focused upon. What gets lost in the process is an examination of potential downsides, or use of technology in a manner that its developers never considered.

A prime example has been 3D printing technology. What arose out of this is, as such printing machines became affordable, individuals developed the ability to print a 3D gun at home. Not only could this be done in secret and avoid background checks and registrations of such weapons, but since the weapon is made out of plastic, it creates a non-metal gun that can pass through detectors.

Another example is the Crisper Gene editing technology. While it promises to be able to stop certain diseases, we have no real concept of how altering human genes could affect the future of the human species, especially when people with entity genes decide to reproduce and pass those edited genes on to their offspring.

In the book from which this quote was derived, Postman points to the example of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. Postman writes:

“Gutenberg thought his invention would advance the cause of the Holy Roman See, whereas in fact, it turned out to bring a revolution which destroyed the monopoly of the Church.”

New technology always has a way of making something else obsolete, sometimes to the point of completely destroying certain industries in the process. One example is how the success of Amazon continues to cause numerous retail chain stores to go out of business. This has had a twofold effect: ending the livelihood of certain retailers, as well as ending the ability of the consumer to walk into a store and hold an actual product in their hands before making a buying decision.

Origin of the quote

This quote comes from postman’s book: “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” (1985).

About Neil Postman

Neil Postman (1931-2003) was an American educator, author, media theorist and cultural critic. As an educator, Postman held a Masters degree in education and taught at New York University. As an author, Postman wrote over twenty books, many on the subject of technology, education and culture. Some of his most popular works are: Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), Conscientious Objections (1988), Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992), The Disappearance of Childhood (1994) and The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (1995). In many of his observances and in his writings published years before his death, Postman seems to have been prophetic in the way that culture would behave regarding the Internet, technology and education, foreseeing exactly the way things have come to be.