Where’s the wealthy future that should be possible from advanced technology? Advanced societies create most inventions, but they’re turning into barbells with the middle class pushed to the bottom while power moves to the top. We’re overdue for answers.
Today’s digital seems cool. Until you realize it’s only just begun and we’re moving too slowly into tomorrow’s digital world.
If a generation is 25 years, then only 400 generations separate us from civilization’s birth, about 10,000 years ago. At just 400 generations, we are the biological brothers and sisters of the people who domesticated animals and plants.
About 10,000 years ago, in an early hand-tilled field…
You feel your sweat drip from your chin as you work in your field under the late Summer sun, suddenly inhaling deeply as you enjoy the first faint tang of Fall’s cool air on the breeze. Your plants are nearly grown. This year will bring a change from hunting and gathering. There won’t be starvation during the cold winter months. It will soon be time to harvest, to celebrate.
We took nearly all those 400 generations to reach the industrial revolution.
In the past eight generations we transformed everything.
Today’s farmer sits in the air conditioned cab of a 35-foot wide combine, confirming its GPS and laser-guided steering. Land management software uses satellite images and soil samples to plan crops, predict yields and calculate farm equipment steering patterns. Your combine’s automated steering replaces your sweat with with one-inch steering accuracy. Music and talk radio replaces boredom.
But that’s not enough. Automation continues to advance. The driver of tomorrow’s 18-wheel trucks will be a driver and a dog. The driver will be there to feed the dog, and the dog will be there to bite the driver if he touches anything.
Full speed ahead
Today we stand on a mountain of human learning and transformation that has only taken us about eight generations to build.
We began industrializing only a few generations ago, and in each new generation we transform even more as yesterday’s industrial revolution slowly evolves into a digital world.
During these two centuries we grew the world’s population from one billion in 1804 to 7 billion in 2012. We expect to reach 9 billion people in 2050, just decades from now.
The industrial revolution’s economic and national prosperity were powered by new inventions and scientific advances. These determined the people, companies, and countries who led the world — basically the world’s rich, middle-class and poor. New knowledge, science and technology became the new levers of power and wealth.
But in the last two decades the developing world skipped wired telephones and went right to cell phones, added the Internet’s global information resources, and used education and modern systems to catch up in ways they couldn’t in the past.
Today there’s more invention and new knowledge than ever before, but economic growth is disconnected from where the inventions are created.
Advanced societies still create most of the inventions and knowledge, but they’re stagnant economically.
As a result, today’s 21st century world is going through three kinds of growth: gradual rising out of poverty, rapid growth of the middle class in converging economies, and slow growth in “advanced economies.”
At the bottom, the world’s poorest people deal with the challenging issues of electricity, water, sanitation, health care, education, and getting connected to the world’s amazing digital advances.
That’s happening but for some people it’s too slow. However, others say, “Over the next 10 years, a billion more people will be connected to the Internet. That’s fast.”
So it depends on your point of view, but it is happening and as people get connected, the modern world’s advantages flow to billions more.
In the middle, the world’s fastest wave of economic growth is being surfed by people who are catching up and joining the middle class. Convergence is their economic engine. As the world converges hundreds of millions of people enter the middle class, in countries all over the world.
To grow rapidly and economically, many lower income people are becoming well educated and replicating many of the technological advantages and economic performance that were used by the advanced societies. The converging economies are thriving, producing the world’s fastest economic growth.
At the “top” the middle class in advanced societies and economies, which are roughly 12% to 15% of the world’s population, face an economic plateau.
Their societies’ inventions and technologies race ahead. Productivity is surging. Many corporations earn high or record profits.
But middle class incomes are declining. Middle class jobs are vanishing. Low paying jobs are spreading quickly. Most college educated kids are under-employed. Government and thought leaders don’t have answers.
In these “world-leading societies” science, invention and technology keep advancing. In fact, their pace is faster than ever.
Where’s the great future that should be possible with today’s technology and abilities?
The economic returns to most people are falling. Productivity, technology and wealth creation no longer fuel many kinds of jobs and earnings. Large numbers of people are well trained to thrive in yesterday’s industrial society, but that world is vanishing.
The middle class in “advanced societies” are in an economic decline. More people are being shut out. When someone loses their middle class job and can’t replace it, they face a crashing nosedive.
There’s an invisible elephant in the room: Has the tech industry failed society?
If you track the tech industry’s activities and $$$ invested in new technology, it’s off the charts. But when you track society’s prosperity, tech’s rise matches the decline of the industrial revolution’s “income growth engine.”
Where’s the prosperous future that should be possible from the tech industry’s amazing innovations, products and services?
The “advanced societies” are failing when compared to the converging societies and economies — the economies that have sped up.
When the world’s most “advanced” countries have the newest and best tech, but they aren’t evolving fast enough, there’s only one conclusion: They’re moving too slowly!
The gap between our technology’s potentials and our results is huge and growing.
We’re overdue for answers.
Image credits: The first graphic is credited to Shutterstock. The second graphic is copyright Dan Abelow.
Dan Abelow is an American inventor, author, speaker and technology consultant. His latest patent-pending invention, the Expandiverse, is new technology to build an advanced Digital Earth now. His previous patents are licensed by over 500 corporations that include Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung Electronics and many other leaders. He holds degrees from Harvard and the Wharton School. Get connected with Dan at ImagineANewFuture.com/connect/