We are living in a unique technosphere. We can live underwater, we seriously consider colonizing The Moon and Mars, we are getting closer to curing the deadliest diseases.
History of consumerism
No doubt, this is the best time to be around. However, this technosphere started forming only 200 years ago. The initial push towards the modern technological prosperity started with the advent of the steam engine. James Watt developed an improved version of Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine in the mid 18th century.
The principles used in the steam engine remained a dominant source of power up until the early 20th century when the development of electric motors and combustion engines shifted focus towards more efficient and powerful energy sources. This was the turning point. We realized that receives energy by disposing of natural resources was way more beneficial than using muscle power. The mechanism of natural resource devastation set in.
For thousands of years, humanity had been a part of the planet’s ecosystem. We used our own muscle power, learned how to domesticate animals and use theirs, we used water and wind. There was no other way of existing on the planet rather than being a part of its massive cycle.
A disproportionate volume of energy that we learned how to accumulate, tainted us.
This energy skyrocketed us into the technological development that changed the entire principle of our existence. Once all the major turmoils of the 20th century got wrapped up at the Yalta Conference, the consumer era began.
The devastation and famines of the two World Wars had to be overcome by expanded reproduction, which was impossible without a sustainable growth of products for the people. The number of goods consumed started to depend not on the needs but on the ability to buy. This led to a greater competition between manufacturers, this created a premium segment of pretty much everything and turned all people into users.
This new policy was created by the first-world nations – winners of the wars, the Golden Billion. If it’d stayed there, the finite resources of the Earth would last for eternal ages. However, this consumerism spread like a wildfire. And as soon as a country of India’s magnitude leveled out its energetic consumption rate with that of the US 60 years ago, energy crisis broke out.
The system designed for less than 10 percent of the human population was so attractive that it was taken to the rest of the world. Much to the surprise of the majority of that population who were not ready for this.
What was meant to be the remedy for the havoc taken from Mother Earth, revealed the catastrophic scarcity of natural resources.
To make things worse, not all countries have equal resources but all have similar expectations and desires. Resource scarcity is the lack of food – cultivation areas, fresh water, fossil fuels, minerals, and so on, even fresh air is disturbingly scarce.
This is where we get a horrifying retrospect of our past – colonial wars. Or better to say proxy wars. They are going on. All the color revolutions of the past two decades have happened in the regions of derelict resources, mostly hydrocarbons. What’s next? Wars for fresh water? Air?
Luckily, we are as united as our states are apart. The internet, immigration, unprecedented cultural connections, and personal bonds make a world war scenario unlikely. There is another way of dealing with resource scarcity. A modern way.
There is no simple way to address resource scarcity. Conflict is not an option because the nuclear balance which is the foundation of today’s international relations should not be shaken.
The solution to resource scarcity lies beyond the scope of politics and military.
We have to radically change the 200-year-old leviathan of a technosphere we exist in. And by radical change, we don’t mean further digitalization. Digitalization does not solve resource scarcity, more so, it dwells on it. The way we run the use of conflict minerals is responsible for thousands of deaths in the most unprotected regions of the planet, which ironically are the richest ones. On the other hand, there is no hope stabilizing those regions because most of the countries that run digital production do not possess the element base required for domestic production.
These top countries can’t afford to lose the leverage and turning into the beneficiaries of the countries that have integrated circuit materials in their bowels. This means the existing materials and principles of hardware production are not optimal, nature-dependant, and scarce. Another issue is the lack of trust for the smart components from the third-party companies. In order for you to consider them your own, you have to dismantle them and put back together again. This is reverse engineering and it is being frowned upon and battled by the market.
By 2025, we may come to a point where 20% of the electricity produced globally will be spent on supporting data networks and storing information. Some say that with all the device charging and consumer electronics, it might reach more than 30%. And this estimate does not even include the industrial sector.
Further digitalization can’t rely on the existing energetics.
The Marxist ideology considered a product to be shaped by the following assets:
- research and development
- material and energy
- labor and production
Early on, heavy industrial production required only a small bit of research and development. With the radical shift towards the semiconductor realm, research grew three-fold. Resource intensity shrank and dematerialization tilted the balance towards computational engineering. Today the research and development share of most products is 90%.
The newest smartphone is sublimated knowledge.
What about the people? Human labor is the foundation of industrial production. The larger the facilities, the more people you need to hire to service it and run the assembly line. This made the manual labor an equal part along with the money and the material base required for big production.
Today’s reality and innovative robotics mean if you have the money, you don’t need that many people. Workers are no longer required if you can handle the resources and pay the bills for this type of automation. also, you product has to be expensive enough to generate this much income.
This is where the 200-year old chain breaks. Money cuts the people. And these days money is in digitalization. Industrial production creates jobs. Digital production, for the most part, builds services and optimizes the process, ultimately eradicating most of the jobs.
In the 19th century, industrial innovation caused a full-blown rampage all across England, known as the Luddite movement. As factory jobs got threatened by the rising popularity of automated equipment, skilled workers began to destroy the machines, causing the manufacturers to resort to the violent suppression of the rebellion.
Now times have changed but people still fall back on the same methods of protest. The yellow vests movement in Europe today is the Luddite movement of the 21st century. It’s the people whose life got worse because of the socio-economic policy of the countries. Luddites couldn’t have stopped the progress. We can’t stop the gas prices, tuition fees, and the gap between the salaries.
Historically, this process is not new. When the labor efficiency increased, agriculture forced people out. The massive exodus described in Steinbeck’s Grapes Of Wrath ended in the cities which adopted those people into the fold of the emerging big industrial production.
We are dealing with the same problem only this time, it’s robotics and AI forcing people out of their jobs in production. This puts the middle class in danger worldwide. Ironically, we make more products than ever. Globalization allowed businesses to grow like they are on steroids. They transferred their production overseas and stuck with thought leadership. This is deindustrialization. Trump won because of that.
Trump proclaimed reindustrialization but it’s unlikely because industries rely on the newest technologies that eradicate even more jobs.
The future of creative professions
Most manual jobs will disappear during our lifetime. Just because automation is part of the unstoppable progress. AI is more efficient than a team of engineers working on a construction. AI can analyze massive amounts of data fast, which puts decision making on another level. However, because AI can only rely on the predefined data, it cannot imagine things. This puts the role of creators on top of the technosphere 2.0 pyramid. AI can recreate anything but it doesn’t make things up yet.
The nations that will be inventing what doesn’t exist, will dominate the world.
People remain the greatest force. Every achievement comes from ideation. Even though the focus has shifted on performance, it’s the ideas, assumptions, and dreams that fuel the performance. This is a chance for countries without much resources to surpass the stigma of eternal pursuers.
The materials will eventually end. It will either wage war on those who still have something or will turn the world into a dark feudalistic place. Any type of production has to address people and be run by the people. We can avoid it by keeping politicians out of tech, constantly reinventing new financial paradigms until it works, and by encouraging innocuous creation.
I will finish by quoting Lev Gumilyov on his passionarian ethnogenesis theory:
“The people with an inborn ability to absorb more energy from the environment than they need for development and evolution, give that energy back in form of the dedicated work towards changing that environment.”
The future lies with movers and shakers.