In the 1976 Montreal Olympics Bruce Jenner won the gold medal in the decathlon.
The decathlon is an event where athletes compete in ten separate field and track events and their performances are collated to determine the winner.
Needless to say, due to the degree of difficulty of the event the unofficial title “World’s greatest athlete” bestows a certain virility upon its holder.
Fast forward to the present day.
Last week Bruce Jenner came out as Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of the Vanity Fair magazine. On the surface of it his transition to woman – with cleavage and curves in the all the right places, has been complete for the 65 year old.
It’s safe to say that the larger majority of people regardless of their open mindedness are bewildered first, by Jenner’s need to make the change so late in his life and secondly, at why he would need to make such a public spectacle of a decision that is a private one, which at worst would deeply impact his relatives and friends.
For the people grappling with transgender issues Jenner’s coming out is a godsend for them. With this single stroke he has brought transgender issues into the wider arena from the dark musty corner that it has lurked since the beginning of humankind.
For minority groups of any form or shape, a global recognition of their issues is a first step to wider acceptance.
However the furore that followed Jenner this week is our latest indicator about how technology and communication is changing the world.
As an indicator of technological advancement the computing power in the average smart phone today is more than was used aboard the Apollo 11 space mission in 1969. This has far reaching implications for what man can now do – with computers which are now in everything from our gas ovens to our cars.
In fact computer processing power has so advanced that artificial intelligence – the ability to mirror the human brain’s capacity, is becoming a reality everyday.
Similar magnitudes of advancement have been made in the life and physical sciences.
Sexual reassignment operations have been in existence since 1931 to the point that the procedure is covered by some insurance companies in the west.
One may argue for against it on ethical or moral grounds but you can rest assured it’s not going anywhere, if anything the technology is being enhanced with every operation done.
Jenner would have struggled to get a quality surgeon a decade ago, live alone afford the procedure.
Essentially man is becoming more and more able to manipulate his environment for his benefit. The course of innovation cannot be charted accurately ahead of the fact, many discoveries are serendipitous, happening by good luck. The limits are limitless.
"There is already talk of designer babies – babies born with the desired qualities such as beauty, intelligence, athletic prowess or whatever the parents want. With increasing miniaturisation already robots are being designed that can be injected into the blood stream, feeding back important information about the host's health status on a constant basis. Growing back amputated limbs. Resuscitating the dead in the future...
These developments may have the doomsayers wailing into their soup but it’s happening around us every minute, everyday.
Related to this are the developments in communication technologies. In 1976 Jenner may have been suffering his ambiguity alone – he even got married thrice, but now there are communities online with thousands of members.
And because of their common concerns some of these communities by leveraging the internet are able to project their voice much further than the majority. Technology is turning everything on its head giving minorities the influence of majorities.
So a person in Kisoro or Kabong or Aru with only an internet enabled phone can commune with others oceans away and not only take solace that he is not alone but that improving their situation or extracting themselves from hostile environments, is within the realm of possibility.
So when Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932 describing a world where, among other things reproductive technology, would be changed beyond recognition, he probably didn’t stretch his imagination too far, one would think, reading the book today.
The point is the adventure of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is a part of a larger movement in step with and aided by technological advancement that has gathered an irreversible momentum. It will force us to rethink our previous belief, prejudices and accept things that were previously abhorrent to us...
We can resist progress or try and pick and choose the technologies we want and discard the ones we can’t but that will be increasingly difficult as the world gets more and more interconnected.