Ego and the computer.

In 1992 Neil Postman asked in his book Technolpoly "Will the computer raise egocentrism to the status of a virtue?". Nearly three decades on from when it was published, has time proven him right?

In Technolpoly, Postman notes that the computer as a medium emphasises private learning and individual problem solving, hence the link to ego. If we look to the tech-world and Silicone Valley, both the emphasis of the medium and the prediction hold up. There are plenty of engineers in the tech sphere at work on challenging problems, and plenty of us don't bat an eye when members of this community say things like "We're here to put a dent in the universe".

However, computers and the tech world in general have changed dramatically since Postman's comments in 1992. Depending on one's usage habits, mindlessly consuming content served up to you by the algorithms of big tech companies can hardly be interpreted as "private learning and individual problem solving". Even here, thanks to the computer, it's now socially "healthy" to broadcast one's life on social media. It seems as if Postman was right in areas outside the initial scope of his book.

Facebook and social media has to be one of the most impactful pieces of technology of the past decades, especially if we measure it by its involvement in the daily lives of ordinary people. I always feel the need to ask 'Was this inevitable?' What other technological paths did we not explore, and which are we yet to explore because social media developed when it did? Is the ego-centric nature of these platforms an extension of the computer as a medium? Or is it that it's a product of the disciples of the computer, who had already subtly embraced the intrinsic ego-centric values of their craft? Probably a bit of both.

Neil Postman died one year before Facebook launched.

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