Coding Our Future: The Industrial Revolution Ends Here

The Industrial Revolution, which most historians date back to the 18th century, had a profound and lasting effect on the way we live. It was a defining stimulant of urbanization, capitalism and consumerism.

It profoundly changed where and how we work. Artisans, craftsmen and growers became factory workers. We left the home, the yard, the garage or shed and made our living in factories, mills or office buildlngs.

auto assembly lineIt ushered in an era of mass production of products by giant organizations. Originally that meant making goods available to a far broader segment of the world’s population at affordable prices.  As the Western world moved toward a more service oriented economy, the same model was followed: massive organizations providing cookie-cutter services.

The producer/provider organizations grew their business by becoming larger yet, merging with or swallowing up competitors. And they grew their profitability by outsourcing, by automating, by using cheaper materials, less expensive labor and generally providing less for more.

There has been a simmering backlash in some quarters. Many have chosen to celebrate the local, the organic, the artisan. The purchase of food is one example, with more and more Americans choosing to buy what they can at local farmers’ markets rather than going to giant chain stores to consume the products of agri-business conglomerates. It’s why coffee drinkers search out the local roaster rather than buying a can of Maxwell House. Why some opt for a growler of local craft beer instead of a six-pack of Bud.

While it was nascent technology that fueled the early Industrial Revolution, it may well be technology that puts an end to the cultural, business and labor environment that the Industrial Revolution created. There are two trends which ultimately may have an equally profound effect on what we consume, how we work and our overall lifestyle. One is the peer-to-peer sharing economy. The other is the DIY maker movement.

Most of us are familiar with some of the early success stories of the sharing or on-demand economy. Uber instead of taxis. Airbnb instead of hotels. Zipcar instead of private car ownership. These services have been wildly successful because of the cost or poor quality or lack of convenience or availability of the products or services they are replacing. There are many others that are not as widely known, services delivered through apps for dog walkers, tutors or grocery deliveries.

Many decades ago the renowned American architect R. Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome, espoused the philosophy that we need to do more with less. By doing so, he believed that there were enough resources in the world for everyone. The shared economy does just that. It utilizes excess capacity, whether that is an unused car seat or bedroom or maybe it is knowledge. The world’s greatest information resource has become Wikipedia, which is put together by volunteers and has wiped out the encyclopedia industry.

Peer to peer shared services fundamentally change the nature of work. What is cut out is the massive organizational provider, replaced instead by an app. NYU professor Arun Sundararajan describes this as a “transition from institutions to communities. What it also means is that people put together work based on their available time, knowledge and resources, providing it directly to the consumer peer outside the boundaries of a full-time job as we know it.”

And while peer-to-peer sharing has the potential to revolutionize the service economy, there are other new technologies, the best known of which is 3-D printing, which could completely disrupt the world of manufacturing.

3-D printer


There are some amazing things that have been done with 3-D printers:

Will we reach a point at which there is a 3D printer in every home? It has been suggested that these DIY home manufacturing units could create everything from car parts to hearing aids. And the Chicago example shows that even before that happens most of us may have access to DIY manufacturing through our local public library. What this offers is exactly the opposite of what came out of the Industrial Revolution. It’s local, it’s customizable and it can be done in your home or neighborhood.

Writing in the Guardian, Paul Masur, economics editor of Channel 4 News in the UK, describes this as the era of post-capitalism. (The End of Capitalism Has Begun.) “The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.”

Some of these visions may be pretty far off, like on-demand driverless cars that eliminate the need to have one in your driveway, or home production units that create your own dental implant. But these are irreversible trends that are going to change the way we live. Maybe as radically as the Industrial Revolution did.

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21 Responses to Coding Our Future: The Industrial Revolution Ends Here

  1. Donna Janke says:

    Technology trends will certainly change the way we live. I am particularly fascinated with 3-D printers.


  2. Phoenicia says:

    I am sure 3D printers will soon become a household gadget just like other technology which we felt would never be well received.


  3. Sabrina Q. says:

    I believe 3D printing will be in the mainstream, but not for at least a few years or so. My brother was telling me recently that he wanted to make one. They actually have kits to make a 3D printer at home. We shall see what comes down the road when it comes to technology. Thanks for sharing. This was very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tim says:

    I love the thought of all this. Imagine having a 3D printer at home and making whatever it is you need. Imagine a world built on community sharing rather than every man for himself. Shows like American Greed would be off the airwaves and maybe, just maybe, we would all get along a little better since commodities would not be so highly valued.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. 3D printing is great to watch. Love being with my nerd friends and watch what they produce. It’s actually unbelievable that it’s possible.


  6. patweber says:

    Isn’t there a television commercial about 3D printing Ken? I could swear I’ve seen one.

    I just bought (leased actually) a new car. The lease was attractive when I learned they will be manufacturing a car in about 4 years that will – practically – drive itself.


    • Ken Dowell says:

      I just leased a new one as well. Traded in a 13-year old VW. Keeping a car that long now means you really fall behind in terms of technology. I think the day will soon arrive when they send updates to your car the way they do to your phone.


  7. jacquiegum says:

    Completely fascinated with the technology in 3-D printers ever since I heard of them. My biggest fear is that if they threaten to become pervasive and upsetting to manufacturing, they will start to regulate them. That’s the political climate we live in now…strong lobbys. Can you imagine if I could make my own eyeglasses at home? Anything, really. Mostly, I’d love to see these advance benefit medicine and have the positive effect of lowering costs in that arena. SO many possibilities. As to having an updated car, I agree. One reason I do lease is because every 3 years I get a new technologically current vehicle. Even if it only stays current for a year! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, Ken. I do prefer to buy handcrafted vs commercially made. There is such a difference in flavour and quality. And, wow! I’d love to see one of those 3-D printers in action!


  9. I read an article a while back about 3D printers being a highly cost-effective way to make temporary prosthetic limbs for kids who are still growing. It’s exciting technology, though if I had one of my own, I am left to wonder what I would want to print?


  10. Erica says:

    I’m moving more and more towards doing things locally. I’m planning a vacation and, for the first time, checking out AirBNB. I think we are a long way from the chain store being obsolete. But there are a lot of people who appreciate having more options and actually having a face attached to the product.


  11. I just find the 3D printers hard to wrap my head around that they work. It’s like something we would have seen on the Jetson’s when we were younger. It’s amazing. What would really be amazing if if they ended up a regular household item like a TV or microwave.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I know I’m work in Hollywood when my comment is the only one that stems from a TV series. But here goes, On an episode of, “The Good Wife”, a young computer genius made a gun using a 3-D printer. While testing the trigger, the gun went off killing an associate.Was it all planned??? I It ‘s an interesting concept and sadly a truth , how innovations in technology are used for both good and evil.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Tatia says:

    Very insightful post Ken! I keep hearing more and more about 3D printing with amazing headlines like this: Certainly seems like the face of the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Andy says:

    For some time now I have been a non-motorist, which can be seriously inconvenient but does save me big bucks and spares me various hassles associated with being a motorist (e.g., maintenance, traffic). Bring on those on-demand driverless cars – I’m ready!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Jason @ says:

    While the idea of 3-D printing is typically good I don’t trust it 100%. If a criminal gets one we could be in a world of trouble. We thought gun problems were bad now, just wait.


  16. I should read your blog the day it arrives, Ken, instead of on Saturday because they make me think too hard. Yes, that is meant as a compliment! I hope a lot of what you have written comes true. I know that I am sad every autumn when the farmer’s markets shut down. It is a joy to shop them every Saturday morning and get produce that is naturally organic and pay three times less than the grocery store–importing it from who knows where. We get our coffee beans from PrestoGeorge–a shop in The Strip District (genuine market area) of Pittsburgh–it’s been there for 80 or so years, I think.

    Anytime we get real service from a real person, we nearly fall over in shock. Good changes to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I am looking forward to when 3d printing becomes affordable. This will have a change in out economy. Imagine when it is perfected, anything you need you will print at home. As Shakespeare, wrote, O brave new world. That has such people in it.


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