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Tag Archives: Neil Postman

Appropriate Technology

Since becoming involved with the Pittsburgh chapter of Engineers Without Borders, I’ve become intrigued by the notion of appropriate technology. EWB is kind of like Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), except members carry a slide rule (well, handheld calculator) instead of a stethoscope.

I’m not an engineer (nor do I play on on TV). I am interested in novice-expert learning, problem-solving, storytelling and how we share what we know. I have written before on the right tool for the job, and techniques and technology that fit particular needs within constraints of time, money and resources. This includes older technologies that can be re-purposed for modern needs. For example, Crankies , aka moving panoramas, offer a form of visual storytelling dating to before the 19th Century that does not require PowerPoint or electricity. (Carbide lamp, anybody?)

Image courtesy of The Crankie Factory. Pittsburgh’s first Crankie Fest is slated for 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Wilkins School Community Center in Swissvale.

Although it is 365 miles (587 kilometers) from the ocean, Pittsburgh is not entirely landlocked. Whatever is tossed into our region’s three rivers flows to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, included the plastic bags and other trash that end up in the oceans. Now an idea originally developed by a 16-year old Dutch kid named Boyan Slat may help provide a low-tech answer to removing it.

We’ve certainly been sold the notion that technology can meet our every need, from medications to self-driving cars. But there’s usually a tradeoff, as Sherry Turkle and others have recently written.

In assessing the appropriateness of any technology, we would do best to keep in mind the question Neil Postman asked: What problem does this technology solve? What problem(s) does it create?1 — CDL

1Please see a 1998 posting and appreciation of Neil Postman and his questions at Yale Engineering.






Brave New World: TLPC Starts 5/17 at Pitt Osher LLI

If you signed up for  Brave New World: Technology in Literature & Popular Culture a  dedicated web site and blog are in progress complete. I will add added a link to the course site here on or before May 10th under Events. I am teaching this class May 17th — June 14th  through Osher Lifelong Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. Registration is still open. Please see the following summary.

Time: Five successive Fridays from 1:00 — 2:50 May 17th through June 14th.
Location: Cathedral of Learning, Oakland Campus, Room 332
Instructor:  Chuck Lanigan


  • Readings (online and printed)
  • Discussion
  • Class Contributions
  • Assignments & Readings

We will cover technology through each era’s unique :

  • Events
  • People
  • Literature
  • Popular Culture (Film, Periodicals. Letters, Etc.)

The introductory text is Neil Postman’s Building a Bridge to the Eighteenth Century: How the Past Can Improve the Future. (Please click to view an online video  of  Postman being interviewed about the book). I will also share printed excerpts (handouts) and links to online sources to be listed on the site, along with examples from film & television.

In the meantime, please feel free to submit comments or questions related to the course. Stay tuned. — CDL

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