We are into the fourth wave of digital disruption. What’s happening now? What are the spiritual implications? Find out in this week’s edition of “Isn’t That Ironic?”.
Note: Today marks the third post in my series on the likely changes wrought or accelerated by the present virus. Today I look at technological change.
We are presently in the fourth wave of digital disruption in this Information Age and the reaction of governments will accelerate its disruptions. Let’s review.
The First Wave
Our present technological period is called the Information Age because the technological changes are mostly about using machines to handle information. The first wave of digital disruption was the adoption of the personal computer, between roughly the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. It dramatically improved the efficiency of businesses. It decimated the ranks of secretaries and middle managers. The role of secretaries was mostly filing (information stored on paper), typing (paper correspondence and reports), and similar physical handling of routine information. Personal computers allowed most executives to do these tasks themselves more quickly than they formerly could with a secretary. The role of middle managers was largely about collecting, organizing, and disseminating information. Computers easily replaced this function.
The personal computer also thinned the ranks of blue-collar workers. For example, I became a chemical process operator in a new ammonia plant in the early 1980s. The new ammonia plant produced four times as much as our older plant with fewer operators. It used new computer technology to monitor and control the process instead of the older analog controllers in the old plant. Dozens of manual valves were replaced with automatic valves. The same story was repeated in thousands of businesses around the world—people were replaced by machines. It has been the story of industrialization for 300 years.
The Second Wave
The second wave was the adoption of the internet from roughly the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. Email replaced snail mail. “Ask Jeeves”, and then Google and Wikipedia replaced reference books. Thousands of years of knowledge and wisdom were put online for anyone to access in seconds. Information moved from paper to electronic format, including newspapers, and magazines, and books. This process continues. It saved millions of trees and replaced thousands of people formerly employed in physically handling this type of information.
The Third Wave
The third wave was the smartphone, from roughly the mid-2000s to mid-2010s. By then, the majority of people around the world used smartphones instead of landlines. This little hand-held device combined the power of the PC, the information access of the internet, the communication power of a personal satellite TV, and entertainment possibilities beyond imaging.
The Dick Tracy radio wristwatch of the 1960s, which we all laughed at as impossible, had become reality. The modern smartphone was way beyond even Dick Tracy’s imagination. We now hold in our hands a device of incredible power. Our access to information is beyond the wildest dreams of people throughout history, even up to a few years ago. Do we need universities when we can learn all that information from our phone? Information is available everywhere, instantly. This changes everything. As I pointed out last week, the control of information has become the most profitable business in the world. Data is the new oil. The largest five public companies in the US are in the information business.
Throughout these three waves, advances we thought impossible were accomplished in a few years. We could not keep up with the speed of change. By the time we figured out DOS, it was replaced by Windows. By the time we bought a Blackberry, it was replaced by the iPhone. Hang on to your hat—life is about to get even weirder!
The Fourth Wave: Blockchain.
When the internet became popular, many people saw this as the democratization of information. There was no censorship or control of information. Well, things haven’t quite evolved that way. Big companies control, use, and profit from our data—not us. If you hadn’t noticed it before, you must have noticed during this current virus crisis, that governments now control the controllers of information (Google, Facebook, Youtube, etc.) and are censoring anything they don’t want us to hear.
Blockchain is the fourth wave of digital disruption.
It was called “fake news”. As always, it’s a curious, propaganda term. Governments say they are trying to “protect” people from fake news. But most fake news comes from governments themselves. In reality, governments are trying to regain control of information—that’s the path to controlling people. But they are losing their grip—in so many ways. Blockchain will bring true democratization of data and a new freedom. But with freedom comes responsibility, so there are important consequences for all of us—even spiritual consequences. It's a bit ironic, but I think our present exercise in excessive and paternalistic government control is going to backfire.
The process of digital disruption has decimated the jobs of blue-collar and mid-level jobs but has not yet disrupted the professional classes very much. That’s about to change. Blockchain technology will eviscerate the ranks of teachers, accountants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and even governments. The information they handle and control is largely “rule-based” decision-making and can be automated using artificial intelligence, robots, and blockchain smart contracts. Next week, I’ll explain more about this fourth wave and how it might play out.
This has been a long post and I’ve yet to mention the spiritual implications. I’ll be short. Freedom is the other side of the coin of responsibility. Each of us will have greater freedom. Therefore, each of us will be more responsible for our own relationship with God. We cannot simply show up in church once a week and think that we have God in our pocket—that our priest or pastor will set things right for us with God. Each one of us must seek God on our own and in our own ways. There is no wrong way to approach God, and no wrong time. We can approach now or later. We are eternal souls just as God is eternal. We cannot avoid each other and we have forever to find each other.
Your relationship with the Divine is in your hands. It always has been. Look within. God is inviting you to connect with Him.
God Bless You!
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