In the fall of 1971, I took a course at St. John’s entitled Technology and Culture.
I never took a better course, either in grad school or law school.
It was a colloquium, which meant the class members took turns leading the discussion of the readings for that day.
There were a series of scholarly articles and books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Everything we read had to do with technology and the impact it has had on our culture.
Our professor began the class by stating that Americans’ response to technology has been both ambivalent and ambiguous. At the time, I don’t think I was alone in wondering what he meant and whether he was going to tell us.
He never did tell us but left it to us to discover.
One of the first books we read was Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan.
This was published in 1964 and contained the hook phrase, “The medium is the message.”
Not wishing to explore McLuhan’s theory in total, I only want to point out one concept he popularised. That is the notion of the Global Village.
Basically, the world’s shrinking due to our technology in communications and travel would create a village atmosphere where we would know more about each other, thereby creating a world view for Earth’s inhabitants.
After an exhaustive discussion of this concept and the book in general, our professor summed up the thoughts expressed and asked, “Does it follow that because we can learn more about each other that we’ll actually like each other?”
Ambivalent and ambiguous indeed.
In 1971 (and indeed 1964), there was no internet, no personal computer, and no smartphone. The IBM 360 computer occupied an entire room in our data processing center in Lorrilard Corp, where I worked as a mail clerk.
The notion of a handheld computer was as futuristic a notion as a Dick Tracy wrist radio which later in the early 60s morphed into a wrist TV.
The only technology that was a daily experience for us was television and radio. Of course, there were movies which we frequented less often than these. In terms of the information, we relied on TV and radio news and the newspapers.
Despite political preferences for what newspaper you read, there was little concern with fake news either in print or electronic broadcast.
So, fast forward to the third decade of the twenty-first century ( almost typed “of the Rosary”), and it’s hard to rely on any of our technology.
Between spam emails and phone calls, and even texts, I spend as much time deleting and blocking as I do utilize my phone for its intended purpose.
Ambiguous and ambivalent still/
But of course, there is Wordle!