I was at a financial advisor conference the other week and the closing talk was by a guy from Singularity University (yes, that’s a thing) spreading the Futurist Gospel, a wondrous world of drones and blockchain and Elon Musk just as far as the eye can see.
The audience was rapt, especially anyone under 40, because the Futurist Gospel – like any Gospel – is rapturous when well evangelized. And this guy was a skilled evangelist. I mean, it was just a guy and a Powerpoint deck, but it was one snazzy Powerpoint deck. Animation!
But then there was a glitch in the deck – an animation of a Tesla gigafactory failed to launch (too ironic, right? I am not making this up), triggering a total system freeze.
At first the Futurist made a joke. The audience, still rapt, laughed.
The Futurist began pressing the remote control buttons furiously. He called out to the technicians in back of the room. “Hey guys, can you help?” They could not.
And then the Futurist became angry. “What good are you then?” he snarled.
It was a true snarl. It was his true face.
And just like that – poof! – the spell was broken. The Futurist had lost the room. He had lost himself, too. Without the Next Slide, he couldn’t tell the story. Without the Next Slide, he couldn’t wear his mask.
Eventually he recovered. Eventually he rebooted the slide deck. Eventually he put his smiling mask back on. They always do. He got back into his patter, and he recovered some of the room. But some never came back.
What is the linchpin of our smileyface authoritarian world? It’s the power of abstraction and cartoons in service to the Nudging State and the Nudging Oligarchy. It’s the Next Slide.
I write Epsilon Theory to call attention to the Next Slide, in both markets and politics. Because once you know the Magician’s trick, once you see his true face, his spell is broken. For a moment, anyway. For some.
To read more on the power of abstraction: “The Icarus Moment“
To read more on the misuse of Science with a capital S: “Magical Thinking“