Today I’m thinking less about how it’s gone mad, from anti-vaxers to creationists to the anti-GMO movement to the all the naturalnews followers and how turmeric cures cancer and immunizing your puppy naturally by taking him to the dog park where he can find the parvo bug, and more about why there seems to be this sudden backlash against science.
While I did think even 20+ years ago that it was inevitable that history teaches that civilizations rise and fall, and that the industrial revolution changed the entire social fabric of society, and I truly believed that the technological revolution would do the same thing, I am genuinely a bit amazed at just how similar those social revolutions are turning out to be.
The industrial revolution turned the world on it’s head via the mechanical technological advances of the day speeding up and simplifying the production of goods. Whether or not this was a good thing for society is still some what debated, but it does seem it was both needed, and inevitable. Growing populations needed more things, more work, more goods, and like any evolution the growth of man’s knowledge cannot be rolled back. You cannot unlearn a thing that has been learned. Whether individually or collectively. You cannot uninvent a thing that has been invented.
The problem with the industrial revolution was that the manufacturing technology grew faster than the social structure and labour laws could keep up with it. I suspect sometimes that’s the nature of periods of growth, it’s always a balance but it’s a dynamic one, pendulum swings. One innovation leads to another leads to another and the cycle gains momentum and speed and there will always be a segment of society that has trouble keeping up. During the industrial revolution it was the saboteurs and luddites who struggled and fought against the new industrial mechanization of what had previously been hand crafted work. Dicken’s depiction of Fezziwig in “A Christmas Carol”, shows the fall of an individual who cannot or will not keep up with the changing times.
It would be a long and socially painful process the changing of the world from the pre-industrial revolution to the post, depending on ones view point of the beginning and the ends of that period, over 150 years. The destruction of one social structure is necessary to build another social structure, and it’s a bit like the old Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times”. For those who lived in the midst of it, it was a difficult and painful time, for those who inherited the new world order afterwards, it was a better place. Although ‘better’ is a subjective term or opinion and it’s possible that there are those out there who wish we were still living in wattle and daub houses, but I suspect those people might be romantics with little understanding of just what life was like in the Middle Ages.
On the heels of the end of the industrial revolution the technological revolution begun. Like it’s predecessor innovation spawned innovation and the whole process gained momentum and that which is invented cannot be uninvented and you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Is this a good thing? That too is still open for debate. But good or not, you can’t unlearn what has been learned. As the technology speeds forward, there is a segment of the population that cannot or will not keep up with the changing times. For those of us who are living in the midst of it, it is a difficult and painful time, for those who will inherit the new world order afterwards, I believe it will be a better place. Although ‘better’ is a subjective term or opinion and it’s possible that there will those out there who will wish they were still living as we did in the 1950′s, but I suspect those people might be romantics with little understanding of just what life was like in the Mid Century Modern Age.
The difference I think will be that whereas the industrial revolution was something akin to 150 years, the technological revolution looks like it’ll be about half that. It’s a whirl wind bumpy ride, and it’s not over yet. For many it is scary, even terrifying.
For those who are excited by the innovation and change and social growth and evolution of the society of mankind this is a wonderful time. But what of the others? Those who would throw their wooden clogs into the looms?
I rather like the Arthur C. Clarke quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Magic by it’s very definition is a mystery. People fear what they don’t understand. The world isn’t all rocket scientists, biochemical engineers, or computer programmers, and by and large most of us don’t understand all the technological changes happening around us. Add in to that mix that by and large people are reluctant to change the known for the unknown, and the next thing you know people are burning the hayricks.
I’m not completely immune to the affects of this, I’m still puttering along on my Windows XP machine saying “I know it works and I don’t want to learn a whole new system”, and I grumble on about “cloud computing and not trusting big server banks out there, I’ll keep my own damned files thank you very much” and I’m reminded of the grandparents who kept their money stuffed in their mattresses fearing the banks as being insecure after the financial crash and the depression. No I don’t want need and any of those darned new fangled ‘smart’ devices and “HEY! you darned kids get off my lawn.”
The whole business calls on us for a certain amount of trust. We want to believe that as higher order mammals we have collectively a control over our destiny as a species. I’m not sure we do. In the end it won’t matter whether I believe in online file storage, (I don’t like it, but I’m learning to live with it). The world will keep moving forward whether I keep up or not. Social and technological evolution will keep moving forward whether the vaccination deniers and the anti-GMO crowds keep up or not, and we’ll continue to live in interesting times, and the world will be a different (and I sincerely hope, better) place for our children and grand children. What I trust is that the universe is going to keep spinning on it’s axis and even if it wasn’t there’s not too bloody much I can do to change that, I can only make my time here and hopefully my children’s time here, a little bit better. The universe will sort itself out.