Neil Postman and Plato’s Phaedrus

Categories: Phaedrus Plato

In today’s society, technology has definitely made its way into being a major part of the entire world. As a result, we are accustomed to new technology being introduced into our lives. To us, this means that we will receive better and new benefits. However, have we taken a step back to see if all these advancements are actually a threat to us? A man named Neil Postman suggests otherwise. In “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology”, written by Neil Postman, he explains that newly innovative technology does not always affect us in a positive way.

Postman starts off “Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology” by introducing Plato’s Phaedrus, a story about King Thamus, since he feels as if it has great representation of how contradictory technology is in our society. Postman makes a connection between the story of Thamus’ doubts on the innovation of writing to the doubts of technology on our day and age. Throughout the reading, Neil Postman’s effectiveness on his audience relies both on building his credibility and successfully employing emotional appeals.

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However, his lack of evidence to back up his logical reasoning weakens his claims.

In the book, Postman first starts out with an allusion on the god Theuth, a person who is known to have created many things. This story was told by Socrates to his friend Phaedrus. The god Theuth presented the idea of writing to King Thamus, in hopes of him accepting the new innovation. He tries to convince King Thamus when he says, 'Here is an accomplishment, my lord the King, Technopoly which will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians.

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I have discovered a sure receipt for memory and wisdom.'(p.4) However, King Thamus has doubts on this new innovation of writing - he claims that writing will make his people less intelligent because they would be relying on writing to remember things. Postman also suggests that Thamus is taking the opportunity of writing for granted, he says, “Thamus simply takes for granted—and therefore does not feel it necessary to say that writing is not a neutral technology whose good or harm depends on the uses made of it.” (p.7)

The repeated use of King Thamus’ story Postman continues by discussing that the story of Thamus is just a representation of our lives. According to Postman, he suggests that, “Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that.”(p.5) Technology has always been a big part of our society. It makes our lives easier, and we find comfort in something that benefits us. Nonetheless, he tells his readers that if we turn away from the reality of technology, we might be heading towards self destruction. Throughout his piece, Postman makes his argument that we as a society should also be criticizing the advancements of technologies instead of embracing it. This way, people would realize that technology can have a negative effect on our lives such as the ending of careers.

Throughout his book, Postman utilizes many sources to strengthen his credibility and appeal to ethos, as well as build up on his claims of biotechnology with logos. Several of his sources include Galileo, Marx and Freud. The author mentions Galileo, an incredible scientist who introduced mathematics, into his claim. He says, “When Galileo said that the language of nature is written in mathematics, he did not mean to include human feeling or accomplishment or insight. But most of us are now inclined to make these inclusions.”(p.13) This quote boosts Postman’s credibility by showing that he could relate to a respected person like Galileo. Postman feels as if technology can also be our “language of nature” and that it does not always need our involvement. On the other hand, Postman also has an appeal to logos within this quote, since he mentions the evidence of mathematics being a language of nature. The author is also making a comparison of mathematics being seen as highly, as to technology is being seen as highly in our day and age.

Furthermore, Postman also quotes Marx to build his credibility, “This is what Marx meant when he said, 'Technology discloses man's mode of dealing with nature' and creates the 'conditions of intercourse' by which we relate to each other.”(p.14) By quoting Marx in small phrases rather than a whole sentence, Postman creates a solemn tone in his piece. Thus, this is an effective way to persuade his readers into accepting his claims.

Continuing onto the author’s ethos appeals, he also mentions Freud as one of his credible sources. He says, “I have brought Freud into the conversation only to show that a wise man— even one of such a woeful countenance—must begin his critique of technology by acknowledging its successes.” Quoting Freud is one of his most effective appeal of ethos since he shows that a wise man also hesitated about technology. Citing such an important person definitely boosts up his credibility, and guides his readers to trust his claims. Specific examples of Postman’s sources help contribute to his claim that people should be more aware of their surroundings.

Along with strong ethos appeals, Postman effectively employs appeals to pathos throughout his piece. In order to build a connection between himself and his readers, he subtly creates a sense of fear and worry. He illustrates how we accept new technologies into our lives without a doubt that we will not have negative long term effects. He calls them, “We might call such people Technophiles. They gaze on technology as a lover does on his beloved, seeing it as without blemish and entertaining no apprehension for the future.”(p.5) One of his first examples regarding advancing technology is television. Postman describes television as something that has ”taken hold more deeply than anywhere else, many people find it a blessing, not least those who have achieved high-paying, gratifying careers in television as executives, technicians, newscasters, and entertainers.”

He says that television is definitely a big part of our daily lives, at least to those whose careers depend on the television. The image he evokes of the negative impact that people will run into if we do not shy away from technology introduce his argument that this is a serious problem. He states, “On the other hand and in the long run, television may bring a gradual end to the careers of schoolteachers, since school was an invention of the printing press and must stand or fall on the issue of how much importance the printed word has.”(p. 10) Based on this quote, Postman brings up the topic of ending the careers of schoolteachers through advance technology. Most people go to school and were taught by school teachers. Without the assistance of these schoolteachers, they would not reach their goals in life if they were to do it alone.

Moreover, Postman also effectively strengthens his argument through haunting his audience regarding technology. He compares people who can’t understand the issue that technology can be a threat to us to, “throngs of zealous Theuths, one-eyed prophets who see only what new technologies can do and are incapable of imagining what they will undo.” (p.5) Postman’s tone in this quote creates a sense of awareness that people who only sees the positives of our future are dangerous. His goal is to make his readers feel frightened and believe his claims. Adding to this idea, Postman returns back to the story of Thamus, to further argue that technology is so powerful that it can redefine who we are. He does this by remarking, “And this is what Thamus wishes to teach us—that technology imperiously commandeers our most important terminology. It redefines 'freedom,' 'truth,' 'intelligence,' 'fact,' 'wisdom,' 'memory,' 'history'—all the words we live by. And it does not pause to tell us. And we do not pause to ask.” (p.8) The words that once define us no longer have its same meaning due to the effects of technology.

Although Postman was very effective in building up his credibility and having an impact on his audience, he lacks in providing evidence and statistics to his statements. This causes his points to weaken dramatically. One example of his appeal to logos is, “we have a similar situation in the development and spread of computer technology, for here too there are winners and losers.” Even though the way he phrases it as if there are actually winners and losers, he doesn’t have enough evidence to support his claim. He continues to give examples that computer technology truly harms workers when he notes, ”But to what extent has computer technology been an advantage to the masses of people? To steelworkers, vegetable-store owners, teachers, garage mechanics, musicians, bricklayers, dentists, and most of the rest into whose lives the computer now intrudes?” He listed many jobs that are affected by the hacking of private matters, but still there is no verification.

Though Neil Postman was very effective in convincing his readers that technology is a threat to the future through his credibility and connection, he lacks the certainty to prove his statements. He does an incredible work of including such well respected people in his piece, to build up his trustworthiness without being credible himself. He also did a wonderful work of pushing his audience to feel a certain way; in this case, a sense of worry. This convinces his readers that they should be worrying about the future of technology if they do not realize that it could be harmful. Even though he leaves his readers wondering about the validation of some of his points, overall, he was very effective and just wants everyone to know that technology is not as good as it seems.

Updated: Jan 21, 2022
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Neil Postman and Plato’s Phaedrus. (2022, Jan 21). Retrieved from

Neil Postman and Plato’s Phaedrus essay
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