As we enter into February of the year 2001, I can’t avoid looking back… to our recent past … to the year 2000. The year 2000… it is over… it feels strange. Millions of people had been looking forward to it – anxiously – for years, perhaps decades. Literarily millions of clocks around the world, of all shapes and sizes, some as big as the one in the Eiffel tower in Paris, were conspicuously displaying the regressive count to the big moment… and then, suddenly, the magic was gone: the year 2000 happened to be for most people just another normal year.
Before we continue, let me clarify: I am not claiming that nothing of importance did happen during the year 2000. Just by seeing the electoral processes here in the US and in Mexico we can notice that they were like no other in the history of our countries. Even here at HBS we experienced three dramatic adjustments: the decision to discontinue the January Cohort program starting with the Class 2003, the creation of the Intensive Field Study program and the incursion of HBS to the market of distance education; in alliance with (wow!) Stanford. Just the last two departures from the traditional HBS modus operandi must certainly have impressed many.
Still, was there anything truly “two-thousandish” in any of these happenings? Was there any other occurrence during the year that would fall in the category of cataclysmic? Any event to write a letter in the tone of “Dear Mr. Clairvoyant: please be informed that you were right” and FedEx it to Nostradamus? Hum, I don’t think so. Fortunately for many of us, there is a controversy about when the 21st century and third millennium start; yes, you know that thing of: “since there was no year 0 BC, then…” That gives us some hope for expecting the real thing in this year 2001.
Will something truly remarkable happen?
To give you my opinion I must rewind a little the tape of my life. Please be patient… it is a looong one. This time the flashback is a quantum leap going back thirty-two years. Probably I wouldn’t remember the episode if it hadn’t been one that influenced my life far beyond my wildest expectations. It was on February 28th, 1969: my sixth birthday. To celebrate it my parents decided to bring us to the movies; not to a regular film for kids, but instead to a high quality artistic film that was being released in Mexico just that week.
So, here I was, a six years-old boy, with my feet into the air, under the tremendously powerful accords of Richard Strauss’ s “Also sprach Zarathustra”, watching how a group of ape-men in prehistoric Africa were enlightened by a mysterious black prism. Certainly it was visually very impressive but I couldn’t understand a single word, particularly because they were not speaking at all. Eventually, after twenty minutes of ugh-ga-ga, when I had already ran out of popcorn, a bone is launched into the air; suddenly becoming a spacecraft… in the year 2001. Now people were speaking.
Well, they didn’t start immediately but after another five minutes or so. They were speaking about a fantastic world in which regularly scheduled “flights” to the moon were common; in which manned trips to Jupiter were possible and where people could be put into hibernation state for months.
Surprisingly, the most fascinating member of the cast was a computer: a HAL 9000. Yes, a computer that spoke. No mouse, no windows, no clumsy on-line help, no paper clip dancing la Macarena in the screen all the time. A computer with a truly useful interface: normal human speech. Of course the error messages were nicer too, instead of the cryptic “blue screens.” this one would reply with a soft-spoken tenor voice “I am afraid I can’t do that.” That was probably the instant in my life in which I felt in love with computers.
Rolling back to the future, or to the present if you want. I look around me and… we don’t have any space station in the moon – you may find some of the reasons why we do not in the case “Final Voyage of the Challenger” (9-691-037) by Oscar Hauptman. We do not have regular “flights” to the moon; actually just trying to depart from the Logan Airport on time is still a major achievement. We do not have hibernation – no, dozing in class doesn’t count as hibernation. Now, just remember your frustration the last time your PC froze in the middle of a final exam, and you will spare me the effort of telling you that we are still rather far from having computers like the HAL 9000.
So, didn’t we progress at all in 32 years? Certainly we did, but not necessarily in the directions predicted by the science fiction writers. Let’s say that the future “is no longer what it used to be.” Certainly for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual… people, the opportunities to have a dignified and free life have changed dramatically; starting precisely in that year 1969; when the US were rocked by the Stonewall scandal. Thirty-two years later. In these days, and of course in certain privileged parts of the world, you can be openly gay without risking your job or your personal relationships. You can fight for your rights in schools, companies and in your community. Many entities include today in their non-discrimination policies, along with race and ethnic origin, sexual orientation and, in some cases, even gender identification. You can even see TV programs nowadays, in which the homosexuality is just a valid lifestyle, not anymore cartoon-like characterization. Furthermore, you can even be gay, appear on TV, survive and become millionaire!
So, are we equal now? Are the dark ages of discrimination for non-heterosexuals over? Of course not! Let alone the fact that those protected by all the abovementioned non-discriminatory policies are just a miniscule minority of the homosexual population of the planet; even most of those still face the huge limitation of not having one of most elementary rights of a human being: the entitlement of having his love relationship recognized and protected by the society. Even worse, in the case of the US in the few occasions in which you can get such recognition, it only has local value and – believe it or not – it can be revoked.
Just as an example, look at the recent revocation of the domestic partnership ordinance here in Cambridge, MA. All those couples loosing their rights “magically” under the legal pressure of the “good consciences” of the Virginia-based American Center for Law and Justice and of its founder Mr. Pat Robertson, who doesn’t live here either!
Oops, it is 4:22 AM now. I still have two cases to read… what can I do? Hum, probably just promise to continue discussing this issue in another article soon and leave you with a Jeopardy question: name of the person to whom I cannot extend the benefits of my visa, health insurance or any other partner protection, who will have to stay out if I have an accident and go to the hospital, who will not be entitled to make decisions for me in such a life or death situation and who will have to pay an arm and a leg in inheritance taxes if I die or even face risk to loose his inheritance rights against the most obscure of my relatives; all that in spite of the fact that he has shared his life with me for more than seven years, loving, caring and supporting me?
Well, let me tell you, that if in this year that problem is solved, I will be remember the 2001 as a year of great progress… even without computers like HAL.