By Peter Suderman
Did you know that Newt Gingrich loves technology? That he's gadget crazy, obsessed with science fiction, and prone to technophile daydreams? Here's Politico with the story of the man who was was known as Newt Skywalker:
Twenty years ago, Gingrich’s appreciation of technology was more novel among Republicans, showing that there was a conservative libertarian interest in preserving the burgeoning Internet from efforts to regulate it. The 1995 Wired magazine cover interview was headlined “Friend and Foe.” At the time, Gingrich talked up the transformative power of the Internet and a world where schools and hospitals would be wired.
Media in his home state dubbed him “Newt Skywalker.”
As House speaker, Gingrich marshaled forces on issues such as data-scrambling technologies, freedom of speech on the Internet and securities litigation reform. He helped launch THOMAS, the Library of Congress website that provides information about bills. He started the High Technology Working Group, now the Technology Working Group, composed of Republican leaders involved in a wide swath of tech issues.
Gingrich is "sensitive to innovation, to job creation, to start-ups and not having the government doing — but getting out of the away," said McNealy, who is now chairman of social-media start-up Wayin. Gingrich "is a spectacular idea guy."
Having a lot of ideas, of course, is not the same as having a lot of good ideas. Which is how Gingrichended up proposing networks of space mirrors (to reflect light onto America's highways when it's dark out) and "directed energy weapons and laser pusling systems" that could be fired from space.
Like a lot of futurist types, Gingrich was influenced by reading science fiction. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!) As Alex Seitz-Wald at Think Progress points out, Gingrich referenced his love for science fiction great Isaac Asimov in his 1996 book, To Renew America:
Isaac Asimov was shaping my view of the future in equally profound ways. …For a high school student who loved history, Asimov’s most exhilarating invention was the ‘psychohistorian’ Hari Seldon. The term does not refer to Freudian analysis but to a kind of probabilistic forecasting of the future of whole civilizations. The premise was that, while you cannot predict individual behavior, you can develop a pretty accurate sense of mass behavior.
Now, as a former teenage Asimov nut, I sympathize (though I preferred the cool detective work of the robot novels to the bureaucratic bent of the Foundation series). Gingrich, of course, is not the only prominent policy thinker who imagines himself in the Hari Seldon mode: Indeed, he sounds rather like economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who in 2009 wrote, "I went into economics because I read Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, in which social scientists save galactic civilization, and that's what I wanted to be."