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Technological Identity and Interactions of Recent History (Fall 2012)

            Throughout examining our global history and culture, forces by which we have molded and shaped our past are clearly evident in nearly everything. These influential means of adapting, known as “Forces of History”, are aptly named for their effects on the past. However, generally what comes to mind when we think of history is a series of events from decades or centuries ago, and that can be misleading. Forces of history are omnipresent and active in our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not! To prove this point, we can look at much more current events than just things of the past few centuries, and elucidate the characteristics to define such forces. In this article we will explore the life of Bill Gates and focus upon the pinnacle of his career: co-founding Microsoft and ultimately facilitating the abounding successes of technology which we enjoy today. Throughout his life, and especially his career, the primary forces of history that we will look at are those of “personal identity”, “science and technology”, and “interaction and exchange”. Centralizing around those forces, we will find evidence within the subject matter by specifically addressing and making connections between Bill Gates’ main contributions and the contributions of a more contemporary pioneer of technology, Mark Zuckerberg - founder of FaceBook, which he has used to sculpt and define his own successes. Through interpreting the connections between two of history’s most powerful technological innovators, it will be possible to further illustrate the key forces of history: perpetuation of one’s personal identity through finding a niche in society and developing upon one’s role as a specific individual - all with regards to science and technology and, moreover, the eventual creation of our newest medium for international interactions, exchanges, and communications: “FaceBook”.

            To begin, we look first to the founding father of modern computing machines: Bill Gates. First and foremost we can see the force of history regarding his role as a specific individual. As the former chief executive officer and currently remaining the highest individual shareholder of Microsoft, Gates has built his own empire among the world of computer technology. In doing so, however, he pulled the rest of the world along with him into the new technological age that we experience more and more of each day. Whilst creating a personal wealth that, for many years, proclaimed him as the world’s wealthiest man, Gates also took pride in the pursuit of his altruistic side; founding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 for the scientific furthering of national education, regarding access to information and technology, and ideally to improve global healthcare while lessening financial burdens faced by the impoverished. In addition, Gates has given much of his fortune to various charitable organizations. Some would say that this side of Bill Gates has been long awaited, while others argue it is simply a facade to satisfy those in opposition to his business practices.

            Inside the entrepreneurial world of the personal computer market, Gates stands among the elite. Getting there, however, meant that the aforementioned positive effects would be balanced by some negativity. In pioneering a new technology, especially one with such complexity, it is common to be met with apprehension from your peers and competitors. Gates has had his credibility questioned by business tacticians considering him to be monopolistic and, in some cases, it has gone as far as court lawsuits over anti-competitive market practices. He has been described as ruthlessly harsh and obsessively business-aggressive as an executive, while coming off as disjointed and uncommunicative when outside the workplace. Whether these sardonic behaviors exhibited by Gates in business meetings with his executives was to communicate importance, or simply a character flaw, is up to personal speculation. However, as we examine these characteristics we begin to look toward the historical force of personal identities and their impacts on relationships, economics, and even politics.

            Through the creation of the computer age, we can identify a few characteristics of the “personal identity” force of history. Regarding Bill Gates, these reside principally within the his personifying definition, which will be explained, and illuminate through the change in relationships, conflicts, and economics. To define Gates is to look at his own personal history: as
a young adolescent and throughout his teenage years Gates was fascinated with computers and quickly developed a talent for programming. This talent was quickly discovered and put to use by his high school, in which he developed a program for seating students in the proper classes; yet, as one who tended to engage in a healthy dose of mischief, Gates didn’t just stop there - he augmented the program to seat him in classes with mostly female students! Awkward romances aside, however, the aptitude for programming shown by Gates began to develop more than simply his personal identity. By computerizing functions that would have been done by hand, Gates was changing the way we go about our roles in society. Why would you pay a person to do a job slower and with less accuracy, when you could buy a computer instead? Technology of our society increased as did productivity and efficiency, while job relationships and roles dwindled as a necessity for humanized personal identity declined. This was just a forecast of things to come, and programming computers to do more complex functions was arguably the tip of the iceberg; economically speaking, especially. Technology is more economically enticing, so it makes sense for the “science and technology arms race” to take on a snowball-effect. More technology leads to more money, which means more money to purchase newer technology, and the spiral continues. Being on the front lines as a technological pioneer, Gates became very influential to paving the way for newer technology to flourish. 

            As new technology enters the scene, new innovative minds enter with it. One such mind of particular interest is Mark Zuckerberg. An introverted intellectual turned social networking giant, Zuckerberg earned his claim to fame with the production of FaceBook which took the world of online social life to a whole new level. Zuckerberg, like Gates, has many similar qualities that can be dissected using some of the same historical principles as before. Additionally, we can start to make comparisons, and contrasting points of view, between Zuckerberg and Gates.

            First, we can look to Zuckerberg’s personal identity as well as his role as an individual. As mentioned, he created FaceBook which ended up being the forerunner in social networking sites. However, it goes much deeper than that in the sense that Zuckerberg created the modern “social network” as we know it. Everything that happens on a day to day basis: relationships, conversations, arguments, conflicts, even something as simple as meeting someone new... that was all possible now without ever leaving your room. Like Gates, Zuckerberg found an incredible passion for the online programming world and quickly became complete enthralled with it. Zuckerberg found himself skipping out on classes and homework assignments while attending Harvard, so that he could continue working on FaceBook. Eventually his habitually absences would lead to him dropping out of Harvard and, despite all odds against him, creating an empire quite similar to what Bill Gates had done many years beforehand with Microsoft. Both men were pioneers of the technological field at a very young age; neither was much older than 20 years of age. However, there were some very key differences, particularly with regard to the historical force of interactions and exchanges.

            Gates was creating a productive empire of efficiency by leading the way into the personal computer market. He was taking many of the human interactions and exchanges that we used to be subject to, and removing them from the equation. Zuckerberg, on the other hand, was taking human interactions and putting them back into the technological field of programming via social networking! A social network is nothing without anyone to create accounts, exchange messages, comment on things or “like” them, and that’s what Zuckerberg wanted to do - facilitate the active community communication through the internet. While Gates was much more concerned with creating something totally new and completely different, Zuckerberg was simply taking social interactions and reshaping them to fit the internet usage of the 21st century. Despite these differences, however, it’s not possible for Zuckerberg to have gotten as far as he did without the help of Gates many years beforehand through creating the personal computer.

            The similarities and differences don’t end there, however. Where there is innovation, there is capital - and for these two programming aficionados, money came pretty easily. Gates in particular experienced much financial growth because he was offering a completely new product that took the world by storm; if you didn’t have a computer, you were going to be left in obsolescence. New industries with completely new jobs would become available, all due to his invention and, as you can see, monopolization of that industry was a very easy thing for Gates to do. Zuckerberg, rather, faced a different scenario. He didn’t want FaceBook to be covered with advertisements nor did he want to charge people to create accounts. Quite literally obsessed with the social aspect of his creation, Zuckerberg on multiple occasions justified his decisions based on whether or not they were “cool.” This is a personal identity force of history because it shows how attached society can become to the online world of social networking. Relationships and friendships become largely a public affair and this drastically changes how people interact with one another. It’s the same concept behind why you act differently around your parents than you would around your friends: when you know people can see and hear exactly what you’re doing, you might not act as naturally as you would have otherwise acted. 

            Elaborating on “seeing” and “doing,” the final force of history that can be tied into the connection between Zuckerberg and Gates is the political aspect, primarily through business policies and informational censorship policies. In some countries, in fact, FaceBook is blocked by the government in order to contain information from their citizens. The internet social networking and personal computer availability is so widespread that it has become an information highway - it’s so powerful that the government has to carefully monitor it as to avoid monopolization of the industry. From both of those political issues, a myriad of externalities can occur such as one-sided political propaganda dominating the internet from monopolized industries, or even simpler: not knowing what’s going on outside the borders of your nation! That’s pretty extreme to think about, considering how much goes on globally these days. Not knowing what is happening outside the confines of your country could really hurt your availability to become successful financially, socially, or ethically.

            To conclude, it is shown that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, despite being many years apart in age, have quite a few similarities. As well, these similarities are matched with key conflicting differences and, furthermore, they are explained through many of the forces of history. Looking to the future, within this industry as well as simply in general, it is reassuring to realize that we can write history ourselves - every single day. History is not just something we can learn from; it’s something that we can make. The quality of what we make depends only on how much we know and how we use that information, and learning about these forces of history as well as applying them to more recent past events (that is, within the last decade or so) shows us that we are making history in the same way it was made hundreds of years ago. The same forces exist; and recognizing that enables a much more intellectually capable population of  humans, and ultimately a brighter future.

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