[IWAR] TECH/OPINION technofascism, the new heresy

From: 7Pillars Partners (partnersat_private)
Date: Tue Jun 30 1998 - 14:44:31 PDT

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    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
     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
     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

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