from The Stillman Disruption Journal
One of the highlights in Professor John Shannon’s Disruption course at Seton Hall University was when Frank Diana came in to speak. Frank is the lead futurist for Tata Consultancy Services, and he makes his living speaking to leaders and executives around the world about the ways that technology will likely disrupt the foundations of the way we live. These changes have been labeled appropriately as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which invites comparison to the three previous technology driven transformations of the same name. Frank’s presentation begins with a walk-through history, how transformation has impacted society previously, and followed up with an explanation of how it will change what we are seeing today. His presentation is what inspired me to write this piece. Looking back to the past is sometimes one of the best ways to understand the future. It is also an invaluable resource for ensuring that the same mistakes are not repeated.
The historical narrative around Industrial Revolutions generally focuses on the grandeur and spectacle of innovation, along with the inventors and business owners that drove it. In the history courses I took in high school, there were entire lessons taught on the Gilded Age leaders of industry like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Vanderbilt. What we focused much less on, however, were the unjust labor practices and crony capitalism that built their empires. More importantly, we barely touched on the strikes and riots, a direct result of workers feeling displaced by new technological innovations that could perform their jobs much better than they could and at a cheaper price. If we return to the 1800s, we will find that the average individual did not see their lives greatly improved by technological revolution. While efficiency and production were both brought to levels previously unseen, economic inequality did not substantially change. Many previously labeled as “highly skilled” were driven out of their industries, and those who were able to keep their jobs did not see their earnings rise at a comparable rate.