The following post provides the framework for the concept of industrial, economic and eventually, social evolution. It links the following two recent excerpts from Kalki Evian: The Ring of Khaoriphea published on Blog of the Fly:
S = K log W
(As seen on the tomb of Austrian physicist, Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann)
That is the formula for entropy. It is a state of randomness, as exhibited in the very nature of our universe. From organized to unorganized. Yet, while things around us may often seem chaotic in close view, whether in dispersion of dust particles or in life itself, they follow a neat order of events unfolding at a preset pace in the larger scheme of things when seen from 30000-ft above. To understand this better, think about the random movements inside the world of an atom. Then zoom out and look at an entire galaxy.
Now, if we were to step back and look at our techno-economic progress since the Industrial Revolution, an interesting pattern would similarly emerge. Originally laid out in the theory of Kondratieff waves, I first came across the concept at Università Bocconi. It shows how we have followed a constant cycle of progress. According to the theory, our economy runs on certain sets of technology and associated management practices at any given time. As time passes, the incumbent technology begins to struggle to sustain our growth. For instance, there’s a limit to which our industries and society could have developed if our machines were still running on steam power instead of electricity.
On the bright side, though, our stable economic progress and prosperity allows for greater investment in R&D that leads to innovations around newer technologies. These insurgents, however, are not yet ready to take over. They need time to develop, become less costly to produce and be scaled up for mass usage. They require an ecosystem to support them. For example, Edison’s electric bulb was of no use to us until a power grid could be built around cities.
Eventually, the existing managerial practices crumble as they fail to manage further growth with existing technologies. That is when the bubble bursts and recession occurs, as it has every 50 years or so. (Eg: The great depression, dot com bubble burst, etc.) It is during this economic collapse that we are forced to employ the novel technologies that have been lurking in the backdrop. We develop newer managerial practices to handle these insurgents. While this new system takes time to establish, it eventually attains stability and growth occurs again.
As mentioned before, there have been several such cycles of industrial evolution over the last two centuries. Let us try to sum it up:
As seen above, our techno-economic paradigm has been largely split into three domains – production, energy and communication. The former evolved from individual labour to large-scale production to automation to customization. Energy came to be sourced from water, then steam, coal, electricity, and oil & gas. Communications took place through physical movement over roads and seas; before growing faster and bigger with railways. Then, they became more instant with telegraph and telephone, before changing in nature and scale through TV and radio, until of course, the world wide web came along.
As with any historical trend, the natural next step is to iterate it to the future. There are two points to note here:
First, the timeline of each cycle has been shortening. That is a concept similar to acceleration – where we cover a given distance in increasingly shorter span of time as we progress. It is an inevitable consequence of efficiency.
Second, as we look down the barrel of a looming economic wobble (read: recession?), far more interesting is our next techno-economic insurgent - a merger of renewable energy and advance internet communications. But knowing that is not enough. The question is how do these two interact together. Enter, the Leaf model ©. That's Part-2 of this story.
Hint: Everything evolves. As Kanha Evian astutely explained to Fridgeon Friuli in this excerpt.
For now, here's a video on a different form of entropy - life, its elusive rhythm and our constant endeavour to control it.
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© 2015 Malay Upadhyay