The Cultural Assault

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Dr. Ahmed Afzaal

An unprecedented "explosion" of information has become the hallmark of our age. The technological advancement in the field of mass communication, achieved during the last one hundred years or so, has had a number of important consequences for the human race. Indeed, it is due to the ubiquitous use and influence of mass media that we find ourselves in a world that is radically different from that of our ancestors. In these pages, we wish to bring to the fore the fact that many of the changes brought about by the mass media are neither wholesome nor desirable.

In general, we regard the marvels of modern science like the cinema, television, computer, satellite dish, and the Internet as wonderful inventions that have enriched our lives and made them less burdensome. When someone points out the negative aspects of all this technological progress, the immediate response one gets is that all inventions are neutral in themselves, their good or evil lies only in the manner of their use. But is it really so? Social scientists do not agree on this issue. The debate is between the Instrumental theory of technology and the Substantive theory. The former is based on the common sense idea that technologies are neutral and have no valuative content of their own. They are not inherently good or bad, and they can be used to attain different ends as desired by the persons or institutions in control. The latter theory argues that each new technology brings with it a new cultural system and restructures the society as an object of control. Every new technology is designed to function in a particular and limited way, and, in practice, it does interact with the rest of the reality in specific and unique ways. Inventions cannot be judged in a vacuum, disassociated from the human beings who use them. As such, every new invention leads to changes in human activities, life-style, and even values. Technology, therefore, is not essentially neutral. While it often has beneficial effects, there are darker sides too that are usually ignored or accepted as a normal part of modern living. According to Neil Postman, Chairman of the Department of Culture and Communication at New York University, "anyone who has studied the history of technology knows that technological change is always a Faustian bargain: Technology giveth and technology taketh away, and not always in equal measure. A new technology sometimes creates more than it destroys. Sometimes, it destroys more than it creates. But it is never one-sided." (Speech to German Informatics Society, October 11, 1990)

Unfortunately, the recent development of science and technology has taken place in a milieu that is bereft of a stabilizing principle, devoid of a faith in Divine Guidance that would have ensured the ethical use of new inventions and gadgets, limiting their deleterious effects to the minimum. Consequently, technological progress has turned out to be more of a menace for humanity in many respects than a blessing. American social philosopher and historian Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) writes, "scientific knowledge has not merely heightened the possibilities of life in the modern world: it has lowered the depths. When science is not touched by a sense of values it works

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