[21 July 2014]
The Road Ahead, if you read it when it first came out, felt bold and optimistic and you by extension, if you read it right, felt imbued with a sense of It Can Be Done. But back in 1995, the more radical tech visionaries and evangelists bit their tongues in a silent grudge—that perhaps The Road Ahead’s vision didn’t go far enough, that perhaps its vision of integrating tech into a fundamentally unchanged social system didn’t quite harness the real promise of computing.
Well, maybe. But that was always the far less interesting argument for me. The more interesting argument was how The Road Ahead could be contrasted with a slightly older book—The End of History, an expansion of author Francis Fukuyama’s similarly-titled, similarly provocative essay that first appeared in The National Interest way back in 1989.
It would be fair to make the point that the two projects couldn’t be more removed, that Gates talks about computers and computing and tech evolution, while Fukuyama discusses the, let’s call it, moral triumph of the Nation-State model and the universalization of the democratic ideal. But both Gates and Fukuyama wade waist-deep into the business of prediction (in wildly different fields, in wildly different fields). And therein lies the cultural comparison.
Far more than Gates, Fukuyama does run the gambit of make bold claims, offering up unimpeachable judgments and auguring. His basic argument of history being teleological and the End of history being the more-or-less global embrace of the democratic ideal, must have seemed like catharsis at the end of the Cold War. History however, has problematized Fukuyama’s view; the recent Arab Spring’s standard bearer, Egypt, being a case in point.
Gates however, in contradistinction, (whether or not he speaks to computing’s inherent potential to disrupt society as a whole), just three years on from Fukuyama’s book, offers a far more nuanced view of what might happen. And it’s between these two works that you can get a sense of the full scope of the cultural forces at play.
You could on the one hand make bold and assertive statements about the future, hard predictions. But you’d risk those essential truths you’re hoping to rarefy, being contextualized to a point where their own essence might be radically diminished, perhaps even seem tarnished. Or you could go the other way. Offer up the complexity directly and look at how that might cause contexts to evolve.
I both liked and distrusted The Road Ahead for exactly that reason. That in some senses it didn’t go far enough, and yet, seemed to offer up the exact complexity of the situation. It’s those same feelings that Trinity of Sin: Pandora stirs up, especially now, after the “Forever Evil” megaevent. Pandora’s an entirely new book, following entirely uncharted territory and in that regard, it’s unique in the constellation of the New 52. It’s not the story of Pandora becoming the impeccable hero she’s always been in the original DC Universe. But in addition to this new territory for the DCU and the New 52, Pandora herself has also exhausted her original motivation of understanding the nature and disrupting of the Seven Deadly Sins during the “Trinity War.”
Emotionally I’m tantalized by Trinity of Sin: Pandora. But even more so by how it becomes an artifact of sociocultural complexity.
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