Nations Agenda™ - Constructive Political Thought
Informative articles and commentaries on government, economics, climate change, our times
Millennials, Seize the Future or Lose It All
The Future Project
Does the world ever stop changing?

Does the world ever stop changing?

That was the view in 500 BCE, when nothing ever changed except who the latest conquerer was. Day to day, people did the same thing over and over again, and had the same health, financial, housing, food, weather, and other problems over and over again.

What would you have been doing in 1700 - 1800 in the US? In many ways, the same thing those in 500 BCE were doing, with some improvement. Most likely, you and 90% of other people, would have been working in agricultural jobs. Most of the remaining 10% would have been apprenticed to a trade that they would do for the rest of their lives, and pass on to their sons. Opportunities to change jobs was minimal. Women mostly stayed home and made clothes and took care of the household. A very few people became doctors, lawyers, wealthy land owners, shopkeepers, etc.

Schools? There mostly weren't any. There were tutors who came to homes that could afford them. There was no paper to write on, and computers weren't even on the dream board. The first universities had difficulty acquiring books because of the expense and general lack of them.

If you were poor and didn't fit in that world, then you most likely headed West to the frontier, and lived on what you could extract from the land. If you had an ailment, sickness, disease, you most likely just lived with it because there were few cures, and mostly homespun remedies. Some of those actually worked, and are being brought back today as alternatives. Progress was incredibly slow. Not much changed.

Then came the industrial revolution, 1760 to 1840. It coincided with the birth of the US as an independent nation in 1776. People learned to harness power and technology to invent new things and increase productivity. Productivity is the measure of work output per person. These two worked hand in hand for centuries. Technology made people more productive. As productivity took away jobs because one person could do the work of two, or a hundred, technology created new jobs. Technological innovation not only created more jobs, it increased wages because people had to be more skilled to do technology related jobs.

Things began to change very quickly as technology fueled the industrial revolution. Using audio recording as an example of technological driven change over 120 years:

  • 1877 Phonograph invented
  • 1888 Flat disc records invented
  • 1900 My grandfather was born
  • 1920s Sound on film invented
  • 1930 Magnetic tape invented (tape recorders)
  • 1948 long play records (albums) invented
  • 1958 Stereo records invented
  • 1962 8 track cassette tape in commercial use
  • 1964 I was a radio announcer
  • 1982 CDs in commercial use
  • 1990s DVDs invented and in commercial use
  • 1997 MP3 (no media or mixed media) in commercial use

From 1877 to 1982, the era of records, was 105 years.

From 1982 to 1998 was 16 years, the collective era for all of these changes: 8 track, CDs, DVDs, and MP3. Notice how change is coming more rapidly.

When I was born, TV was in its infancy. There was no Internet, no computers, no video games. Our only phone hung on a wall, and had a separate earpiece and microphone, and a dry cell sat on the floor to power it. No one had air-conditioning.

Things are changing faster and faster. If you have difficulty imagining a world that is different than today, consider that we are in a time of exponential change, meaning new technology is coming faster and faster, and being adopted faster and faster. The line on a chart representing the pace of change is no longer primarily horizontal, it's vertical. It's going straight up.

In this time of exponential change, how much will the world change in your lifetime? Will the future land on us like an unwelcome master, or will we control it?

Today, agriculture and related jobs have declined from 90% to only 9%, and is expected to continue to decline. This is a very different world.

But change can come at a price, and can out-pace our ability to deal with it. International studies have shown that the thing that causes the most unhappiness in people, is change. Everything about our nation is changing, from the way we prepare food, to religion. We are at an actual crossroads in time in so many ways:

  • Household income has been declining in real wages since 1950. For the first time in US history, people don't believe in the American Dream of owning their own home.
  • People are remaining at home with their parents until on average, age 27. They are delaying marriage until then, too, but maybe for different reasons.
  • Our national economies are global in impact
  • Productivity has remained flat since 2007
  • Our US population is stabilizing. Europe already has
  • We may not need to employ everyone - what then?
  • Wages may continue declining - what then?
  • The climate is changing, with the entire Western US expected to go into a lasting drought

The question is not whether we can turn back the hands of time and become a simpler culture with simpler rules. That's so high in improbability that it might as well be termed impossible. Only a complete fall of civilization could cause that. The larger questions are, are we able to deal with the amount of change? What will become of us? How do we take control of our own futures? These things are the subjects of this series.