Michael Malone is writing an interesting series, of which part two is attached. >From www.upside.com: technofascism, the new heresy For this crowd, the great visionary is George Gilder and his defining work--his Wealth of Nations Road to Serfdom and Das Kapital all rolled into one (no small irony for a legendary conservative)--the book Microcosm (Simon & Schuster, 1989). Gilder is brilliant and passionate, and Microcosm is no different. Most of it is devoted to a superb history of the integrated circuit and the microprocessor, and how these devices changed institutions and the economy. But the last chapter is different. There, Gilder drops all pretense of narrative balance or subtlety and goes for it with everything he's got: Now the chip is not just a landmark invention but a transcendent vehicle for reordering human nature. This is no longer admiration but worship. And coming from a devout Christian, it approached heresy. At the time the book was first published, Valley leaders jokingly said, "Poor George stared so long at an IC that he saw the face of God." They don't joke about it anymore. In the intervening years, they, too, have been on the road to Damascus and been blinded by the light reflecting off a 12-inch wafer. Like George, they have found redemption in Moore's Law--and they aren't alone. Nobody is immune. Consider the following: The microprocessor is propelling humanity into an era of change the likes of which we have never known. It is not merely an invention, but a metainvention, an inventor of inventions ... It is time to celebrate the microprocessor and the revolution it created, to appreciate what a miracle each one of those tiny silicon chips really is and to meditate on what it all means to our lives and those of our descendants ... For thousands of years, mankind has searched for the philosopher's stone, the magical object that turns ordinary metal to gold. Who would have thought it would turn out to be a little sliver of glass with scratches on the surface? The microprocessor, in the span of a single human generation, has evolved from a clever technical novelty to a tireless, almost invisible partner to mankind. Know who penned that passage? Me. Like I said: No one escapes. I wrote the preceding for the new photography book One Digital Day (Times Books/Random House, 1998), which Fortune (in its zeal to cover more high tech than anybody else) recently made into its cover story--as if it were a 31-page piece of independent reporting rather than a project underwritten by Intel Corp. One Digital Day celebrates a day in the life of the microprocessor the same way its predecessors celebrated the United States, Japan and China. The book's theme is appropriate because the microprocessor is a different country--and only a foolish tourist believes it will be anything like home. Every era has its Big Idea--and no idea has been bigger than that of the Digital World. If you get too close (and who can resist), you will inevitably be drawn into its vortex. Like Gilder, the longer you look at the integrated circuit or the Net or the PC, the more transcendental you become, the more hyperbolic your musings. And these days, we're all looking closely. Technology is the siren's call that just may dash us all on the rocks. Gilder's Microcosm gave the first public voice to the absolutism that has always been the dark shadow of high tech. But the idea of perfectibility through high tech is as old as the vacuum tube. Seventy-five years ago, Lee De Forest composed goofy manifestos claiming that messy mankind had sullied his invention by using it to broadcast baseball games and "Fibber McGee and Molly," when it was supposed to spread enlightenment and usher in a golden age. More sinister was William Shockley's involvement in racial politics. Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor, was one of the smartest men who ever lived, but his brilliance only drove him deeper into his obsession with eugenics, most famously with the genius sperm bank. If only, Shockley believed, man could be made as pure and perfect as his technology. But it was not from the top right but rather the bottom left that the vision of technological absolutism reached full flower. What's rarely mentioned about the Homebrew Computer Club--that mid-1970s phenomenon that gave birth to the PC and the personal computer nerd--is its messianic streak. Steve Wozniak may only have been trying to build a cheap minicomputer, but almost everybody else at the meetings was trying to change the world, not the least of them Steve Jobs. The University of California, Berkeley, contingent, in particular, was forever looking at ways to deliver free hardware and software to the masses, to tear down the old order and bring about the New Age. And when Woz and Jobs weren't Homebrewing, they were hanging out with Captain Crunch, the phone hacker who believed the first step to utopia lay in undermining Ma Bell. The whole history of Apple Computer Inc., in fact, is one of undying belief--in the face of all kinds of evidence to the contrary (including Apple itself)--in the perfectibility of man through computers. Hence Macolytes' hatred for Gates for cynically destroying that dream. But in his own cold-blooded way, Gates is an absolutist, too. After all, what is his book The Road Ahead (Viking, 1995) other than a paean to the edifying promise of technology? The only difference is that Gates believes paradise will have a Microsoft logo on the door. But Gates scares us in ways that more frightening personalities like Jobs and Larry Ellison do not. Gates offers us a glimpse of something we all secretly know but are afraid to admit: If a giant global commune of digital men and women is what the absolutists want, Microsoft is an early warning of what they will likely get--technototalitarianism. Not the Eloi but the Morlocks, not the Federation but the Borg. When the Big Brother of the famous 1984 Macintosh ad morphed into Gates on the big screen at Macworld in 1997, a cold wind blew through the computer industry. It was an early warning of the storm to come. At the 1996 Progress & Freedom Foundation summit in Aspen, Colo., technology pundits--from wild-eyed radicals to sci-fi dreamers, self-proclaimed futurists and cool-eyed capitalists--gathered to discuss the Digital World. In addition to the obligatory preening (and partly because of it), a number of debates ricocheted around the room regarding government's role in the new digital world, personal freedom vs. community needs, profits vs. freeware, etc.--the usual debates between left and right and libertarian that have gone on for generations. But astute viewers would have noticed something more, something amazing. Beneath the sectarian differences, everybody fundamentally agreed. From conservative free marketers to liberal social activists, everyone in that Aspen hall agreed that the technology revolution was inevitable, irresistible and--once we got past our pesky sectarian differences--promised to be the greatest transformation mankind had ever witnessed. Having accepted that position, it was easy to take it one step further. And although it was Esther Dyson who made the actual proclamation, nearly everyone in attendance shared her attitude. When asked what should be done about the millions of people who refused to join this Brave New Digital World--those silly souls who refuse to buy PCs or surf the Net--Dyson simply replied that they must be made to join us, the enlightened. Although Dyson may have been half-joking (with Esther, it can be hard to tell), her remark was ghastly nevertheless. Among that crowd, however, the enormity of her utterance went largely unremarked. After all, why would anyone object? If tech is indeed the greatest thing ever, won't it then carry us across the river to the Promised Land? Surely anyone who refuses such a trip would have to be considered confused or delusional--and not to be left to his or her own devices. For their own good, the unbelievers must be forced onto the boat; resistance must be made futile. That, at least, was the message Gates delivered to the federal judge and the Senate committee and, more recently, directly to the Department of Justice: How dare you challenge me?! I'm on the side of the angels, on the train of history. You in government are merely an impediment, an anachronism that doesn't know enough to go off and die. Michael S. Malone is a contributing writer to UPSIDE who grew up in Silicon Valley. He is the author of numerous books on technology and contributes to several business and high-tech publications.
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