Yet Another Industrial Revolution.
I’ve become increasingly convinced that what we’re going through is, in essence, another industrial revolution as software and communications strives to reshape companies around the world. The recession we’re suffering is no less than the economic turbulence resulting from this perfect storm, a perfect storm which is reshaping our economic world as we speak.
Part of this turbulence can be seen with the decline and fall of the Blue State model, outlined by Dr. Mead: The Once and Future Liberalism
But even as the red-blue division grows more entrenched and bitter, it is becoming less relevant. The blue model is breaking down so fast and so far that not even its supporters can ignore the disintegration and disaster it now presages. Liberal Democrats in states like Rhode Island and cities like Chicago are cutting pensions and benefits and laying off workers out of financial necessity rather than ideological zeal. The blue model can no longer pay its bills, and not even its friends can keep it alive.
The real crisis today in the United States is the accelerating collapse of blue government, not blue private industry, which is a phenomenon largely behind us. We are witnessing a multi-dimensional meltdown that affects our lives and politics in many ways.
But it is more than just this. We’re also seeing the world being reshaped before our eyes in radical ways that we are taking for granted: the loss of privacy (via Facebook), the increased availability of information, the decline and fall of retail over internet shopping (which claimed record stores years ago), the decreased cost of distribution of intangibles such as software (nowadays drivers are downloaded from the ‘net rather than put supplied on a CD or a floppy disk, and Apple’s App Store takes distribution via the ‘net to a whole new dimension), the increased computerization of corporate infrastructure (which wiped out secretaries decades ago, and is wiping out business travel, and decreased the cost of administrating increasingly complex HR regulatory schemes), and so forth.
Entire corporate sectors are being completely reworked: Logistics in the United States is all about software (even UPS famously uses mapping software to reduce the number of time-consuming left turns in a customized distribution route issued every day with the packages to be distributed), and companies have embraced software to engage in “just in time manufacturing” that reduces warehousing costs. Grocery stores have reduced the cost of walking the aisles and counting inventory by tracking inventory when the barcode is swiped at the cash register, and many stores are now presenting live inventory levels on the web so you can know if your favorite store has a product in stock.
Walmart could not exist without software.
Things that were mechanical are now software: advancing the spark timing in a car is a matter of software rather than turning a timing nut; dimmers fade at the touch of a button because of a software loop in a microprocessor rather than the discharge of an R/C circuit. Because a single tiny embedded software chip with more computer power than a desktop computer from the early 1980’s now costs less than 50 cents in mass, it actually makes economic sense to use a computer to drive a brushless DC motor via software rather than building an equivalent analog circuit.
The same computing power that in the 80’s was used to drive a spread sheet that ran a small business is now a tiny speck of black silicon inside a vacuum cleaner regulating the speed of your suction motor.
And watch any episode of any television show on the Discovery Channel showing people making things: Mythbusters, American Chopper, Sons of Guns: at some point someone will open up a CAD program, layout a custom part in 3D, and have a numerically controlled system carve that part out of metal or plastic, or evaluate the strength of the part using simulation software.
In a way I feel sorry for President Obama, and the two Presidents that will follow him: Presidents are essentially our “corn kings”: we praise them when the corn harvest comes in, we kill them when the corn harvest fails–even though they have nothing to do with the amount of rain that falls.
And today’s world is being turned on it’s head and being reshaped in ways we cannot imagine by little bits of software.