⇒ The pace of change over the past half century has been faster than at any time in the history of humanity.
Fossil evidence suggests that humans have been on this planet for over 100,000 years. For most of that time, a person could live their entire life and never see a single major change in the way life was lived in their society.
New innovations came slow. I’m talking about social as well as technological innovations. The discovery of fire, the invention of the wheel, the introduction of art to society, the development of agriculture and domestication of plants and animals – these huge innovations didn’t happen in the same decade, they didn’t even happen in the same century. They happened thousands, even tens of thousands of years apart. Progress, as we know it was painfully slow and tedious.
It wasn’t until the last several thousand of years that we really started going. What it took was the invention and spread of written language. And so, for the first time, people were able to share ideas over great distances and even over time. Now, ideas had a new way of spreading, and incrementally, with the occasional setback along the way (e.g. the fall of the Roman Empire), civilization proceeded forward.
The next big innovation that accelerated change in society was the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the 13th century. This was like a turbo boost for the written language. Now, not only can we share information over distance and time, we can disseminate information to many readers. This shot in the arm hastened the Renaissance, was a catalyst for the later scientific revolution and made possible mass literacy that would eventually come.
For a few hundred more years, progress continued at an accelerated pace. In a normal life time, a person might notice some major changes in society. But nothing like the changes to come. The first industrial revolution came to England with innovations in the textile industry and the introduction of steam power.
The second industrial revolution came along near the end of the 19th century and once again, the pace of change got a big boost.
People started to move into the
cities as the economy in much of the western world changed drastically over a period of just a few decades.
New Economy, New Rules
With this new economy, came new rules. The skills needed to get by in an agricultural economy were no longer useful. There were a great many new jobs available
for unskilled workers in the cities. At the same time, agricultural practices were changing rapidly, making farming and ranching increasingly competitive and difficult for the smaller operator to keep up.
Most recently, we have been going though what some call the third industrial revolution. You may know it as the digital revolution or the information age. Whatever you call it, it began in the second half of the twentieth century with the invention of the microchip.
Winners & Losers
During each of these periods of change, there were winners and losers. When the speed of change accelerated, there were some who were unprepared. Through no fault of their own, they didn’t have the skills, the insight, or the opportunity to take advantage of the changes that were to come.
But some – really only a few – they were ready for the changes; they saw the opportunities in front of them that others were blind to.
Now, the speed of change is accelerating at an exponential rate! And there’s not much that anybody can do about it.
There are some who believe that we are entering the fourth industrial revolution.
“The First Industrial Revolution used steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres” – Professor Klaus Schwab
Like each of the previous leaps forward, this new economy will have new rules. There will be winners and losers.
Which one will you be?
In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the various aspects of the fourth industrial revolution, and what they might mean for those of us who will have to live and work in this new, ever-changing world.
What do you think will be the biggest changes in the next five years? The next ten? The next twenty?