Digital Eschatology: A Reading from the Book of Steve Jobs

To highlight just how much market decisions and a religious faith in progress has become our new Revelation, consider a story in the news.

According to Bill Gates in the future universities as physical entities will no longer exist. The process of education will take place through cyberspace. This is progress for the benefit of humanity.

Or consider Amazon, who after introducing their Kindle, declared that in the future books will be obsolete.

I have heard some debate on the topic. The cyber college issue was taken up last week on NPR. In the first corner there were the producers of technology assuring us that the future is technology. The counter-point side came on the show to suggest that cyberspace could never replace the “real” exchange of ideas in a traditional classroom setting.

What I found interesting wasn’t so much the position that either side was taking, but what they weren’t saying. Essentially, there were two prophets arguing over the inevitability of cyber universities. The key word for both: inevitability. Is it going to happen or is it not? Are books going to die or not? As if these things were simply natural cycles. The university may just disappear, but not through any actual agency or human action. Of say, restructuring universities, firing obsolete professors, tearing down or selling campus buildings, building (or probably buying from Microsoft) an online infrastructure. No, these things happen like weather cycles and evolution, we can only speculate how nature will run its course.

It’s particularly within the realm of technology that this very eschatological faith can take place. If tomorrow Coca Cola were to declare that in the near future coffee shops and cafes would no longer exist, that soda bars were the wave of the future, and the morning cup of coffee a thing of the past, then surely we’d think they were insane. So why is it so different when Microsoft declares computer technology the inevitable course of progress?

If you ask me, it’s about time we expose these prophets and their crystal balls for what they are: salesmen. And remind ourselves that we create society by the work of our hands and our minds, we’re not passengers of market fatalism.

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