William Gibson, author of the 1984 novel “Neuromancer” — and, more broadly, the man credited with launching the cyberpunk genre of science fiction — has always had a keen view of technology’s impact on society. As he once said, “The future has arrived—it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Gibson’s thought came to mind as I read an Oct. 12 article in “The Forward”, a Jewish publication, headlined, “‘There’s no going back’ What rabbis learned from the extraordinary High Holidays of 2020.” The piece detailed the efforts of synagogues, in light of the COVID-19 crisis, to hold their religious services virtually.
As author Ron Wolfson put it, “I eagerly awaited what they developed and when Rosh Hashanah arrived, I found myself dipping into services at dozens of synagogues throughout North America. Just the thought that virtually every one of the more than 2,000 congregations [had gone digital] was mind-boggling … The variety, quality, and creativity on display was spectacular.”
The story quoted one rabbi as saying, “I’m hearing again and again … many of our members enjoyed the service more from home than they did packed cheek to jowl in shul.” The new way, the article continued, is that services will be “delivered to their homes like a DoorDash meal, all packaged and ready to eat.”
Of course, other religious faiths have been beaming electronic media into the home for decades; back in 1957, Billy Graham’s evangelical crusade was broadcast live from Madison Square Garden. And others, too, have spread the word in various ways: In the 1970s, the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini beat the Iranian government’s censorship by smuggling cassette tapes of his sermons into Iran, thereby mobilizing the revolutionaries who overthrew the Shah.
So we can see these adaptations as proof of Gibson’s point: The future is not evenly distributed; believers will make their own choices and adaptations, according to circumstances — and we’ll see what happens.
Yet what’s undeniable is that the future is bearing down, like it or not, on all of us.
That was a point made in a profound book from 1980, Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave. Channeling Hegel, Marx, and the French technology-minded theologian Teilhard de Chardin, Toffler argued that human progress moves in waves:
The First Wave of change was the beginning of agriculture, around 8,000 B.C., leading to new patterns of human organization — most obviously, permanent settlements around farmland.
The Second Wave was the Industrial Revolution, which got going in the 18th century, starting in Northwest Europe and then radiating across the planet, bringing with it urbanity, energy intensity, and, for the most part, vastly greater prosperity.
The Third Wave is the Information Age, computers and their data, beginning in the 1950s. As Toffler wrote, “Today, history is even more accelerative, and it is likely that the Third Wave will sweep across history and complete itself in a few decades. We, who happen to share the planet at this explosive movement, will therefore feel the full impact of the Third Wave in our own lifetimes.”
These waves, of course, have not been exclusive, and so it is that farms, factories, and computers coexist—albeit not without confusion, tension, and even conflict.
Toffler observed, for instance, that “the Second Wave brought with it a ‘code book’ of principles or rules that governed everyday behavior. Such principles as synchronization, standardization, or maximization were applied in business, in government, and in a daily life obsessed with punctuality and schedules.” Okay, so that was life in a mass-production economy, accompanied by mass media.
Toffler continued, writing of the Third Wave, “A counter-code book is emerging—new ground rules for the new life we are building on a de-massified economy, on de-massified media, on new family and corporate structures.”
Toffler’s book, a deep meditation on technology, history, and philosophy, proved to be a huge best-seller. Among its admiring readers was a young congressman from Georgia, Newt Gingrich. If Third Wave technology, Gingrich thought, was changing the world, then politics, too, would have to change.
Indeed, one way to think about the politics of the last 40 years is to consider how the parties have adapted themselves to the Third Wave. Influenced by Gingrich, Republicans in the 1980s made better use of such newish vehicles as C-SPAN and talk radio.
Yet in the last two decades, as the newest technology has clustered in Silicon Valley, the GOP has lost its edge. Most obviously, social media platforms, which once seemed to be cheap and easy venues for everyone’s political communications, have proven to be a trap for Republicans. That is, the Right happily handed over much of its messaging capacity to the Tech Lords, who have proven themselves to be in league with the Democratic Party.
That partisan tilt has had consequences: Over the last few years, Republicans have started to notice, however tentatively, that the walls of partisan bias have been closing in on them. Indeed, just in the last few days, rampant censorship of news stories on Hunter Biden has shown that subtle suppression has become outright censorship.
So what are Republicans going to do in face of deletion? Or maybe even extinction? We’ll have to see. The only thing we know is that Toffler’s waves are remorseless in their determinist inexorability; they wash over everyone and everything, ready or not.
In the meantime, if we come back to Gibson’s quote, we can add a codicil: The future is here — and for Republicans, it’s just not equally distributed.
James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation or Conservative Daily News.
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