Guy Rundle’s ‘A revolution in the making’

Guy Rundle writes like that garrulous old uncle at family gatherings. And like that garrulous old uncle, it can sometimes feel like whatever the topic, he brings it back to the same themes. For Rundle, it’s inevitably a discussion of social change in sweeping terms, usually through a Marxist framework.

Which is fine if that’s what you’re after. Given that a lot of contemporary commentary is class-blind, it can be refreshing to read someone explicitly thinking about politics in terms of class. But it can also be frustrating at times when it’s an especially long bow to draw (why Essendon’s doping crisis relates to societal changes), or when he writes on things he knows nothing about (my personal pick for these is Middle Eastern politics).

Having said all that, I enjoy his writing. He has a good turn of phrase, and thinks about things at a macro level that is often absent from day to day analysis. So I was excited to read A revolution in the making: 3d printing, robots and the future. The title’s certainly a promising one.

Unfortunately, it was somewhat disappointing. The bulk of the book is Rundle’s meandering’s through different types of technology, currently at the cutting edge. But as he acknowledges, some of this stuff will become irrelevant within a few years, and other pieces will be crucial. Which begs the question – why is he bothering to write a book about it?

The final chapter or two get closer to the meat of it – what the technological change means for society. Here though, Rundle’s style lets him down. He’s willing to talk about class and society explicitly, in a way that some writers aren’t, which is a positive thing. It’s just that he doesn’t have very much concrete to say about them. He expects there will be major change, but acknowledges he really has no idea how it’ll play out, because these things are uncertain. True, but not really helpful for someone who’s slogged through (an admittedly very light, readable book) to get to his comments. Again, it begs the question – if you don’t have something to say, why are you writing a book?

If you’re uncertain whether technological change will bring about major social change, then maybe this book will persuade you. He doesn’t present compelling arguments, but his rhetoric is strong. He has the sweeping confidence of a first year Arts student who knows that the tutorial needs their opinion, even if he hasn’t done the reading or know what the topic is.

But if you’re after some concrete predictions of what this future will look like, or systematic analysis, this is not the book for you.

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