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Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century

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Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century By: Neil

Postman

Neil Postman identifies himself as a “neo-Luddite”.

What bothers Postman most is the fact that the great

innovators of this time have no frame of reference

other than their own experience, and that experience

is only that of the 20th century. Advocates of trends

such as information superhighways and economic

globalization appear to know nothing of history,

philosophy and culture; they live digitally in the

hollow present.

Postman assesses different ideas in each chapter:

Chaper One: A Bridge to the Eighteenth Century

Postman heralds the accomplishments of personalities

of the 18th Century, including Goethe, Voltaire,

Rousseau, Diderot, Kant, Hume, Gibbon, Paine,

Jefferson, Franklin, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, and

Haydn, among many others.

Chapter Two: Progress

Postman summarizes, “The idea of progress is a

product of the Enlightenment. The eighteenth century

invented it… but it also criticized and doubted it and

its limitations and pitfalls. Reason, when unaided

and untempered by poetic insight and human feeling,

turns ugly and dangerous.

Chapter Three: Technology

When assessing various technological advancements,

Postman encourages the reader to be question, “What

is the problem to which this technology is a

solution?” “Whose problem is it?” “Which people and

institutions might be most seriously harmed by a

technological solution?” and finally, “What new

problems may be created because we have solved this

problem?”

Chapter Four: Language

Postman stresses that the “medium is the message” in

this chapter. He examines the perspectives which our

language forces us to view situations from and alerts

the reader that our language creates an invisible bias

in our thinking.

Chapter Five: Information

“Information” is a relatively modern noun, and

Postman argues that if one searches hundreds of

eighteenth century indexes for the term he will not

find a listing for it, even though much information

and knowledge was gained during the enlightenment.

Postman warns against viewing information as a secular

entity that is not involved in a larger context of

wisdom, knowledge, and purpose.

Chapter Six: Narratives

Postman states that the narratives of the 20th and

21st centuries should not cause us to view prior

narratives and philosophies in a derogatory or

condescending light. Quoting Niels Bohr, Postman

writes, “The opposite of a correct statement is an

incorrect statement. The opposite of a profound truth

is another profound truth.” Postman says that we

should consider the values of other cultures’ and

eras’ vision of Truth to make true progress and attain

true wisdom.

Chapter Seven:

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