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The transition from industrial to digital society
Digital Society and Social Transformation
by Douglass Carmichael
The increasing discourse surrounding social and economic transformation invariably poses the question - transformation towards what? Perhaps, a digital world might be more conducive to social experimentation than the object-focused, materialistic world we are transitioning away from.
Influential narratives, often referred to as scenarios, provide clues for how to proceed with crucial issues concerning organizations or societies, or, as issues emerge, provide strategies.
However, constructing dynamic narratives about our past and likely future often faces obstacles. The difficulty lies mainly in that professionals, especially in the tech industry, are limited by the notion that history simply entails the transition from agriculture and rural life, to factories and cities.
This perception of the movement from rural to industrial society offers a limited picture of humanity's history on earth. People avoid reading about climate, war, inequality, soil quality, and loss of species, not to mention the underexposure to news about their own and comparable life circumstances, such as polluted communities or streets that look like prisons.
Understanding the causes of these negative outcomes is impossible if their effects aren't clearly experienced.
Certainly, there are more complex narratives, albeit understood by a few. These narratives detail our transition from hunter-gatherers, to herding, to settlement formation, craft-work, factories, cities, banks, and finally to a larger tech focus.
However, these narratives often exclude the story of capitalism, inequality, religions, elites, and ideas outside one's own specialized silo.
Graeber and Wengrow's 'The Dawn of Everything' effectively unravels these largely ignored aspects of history, thereby considering realistic alternatives.
An intriguing idea emerged from a small working group of economists discussing narratives: What if the three phases - agricultural, industrial, and digital - are a good map of our most relevant history?
This perspective could shift the global conversations about the goals and processes of transitioning out of capitalism towards more humane values. While this has traditionally remained a fairly abstract concept and seemingly unreachable, the digital revolution is already here, making a profound impact. It is much easier to transition to something that is already present.
In digital culture, the flow of electrons replaces the static placement of things. Aliveness replaces deadness. Metaphorically, electrons are more democratic than objects - they are equal agents. This perspective supports the intuitive belief that life is alive, dematerializing matter, and replacing a world of objects with flows, fields, and networks.
So, how do we transition from a universe perceived as matter and objects to a universe experienced as flows, fields, and networks?
We pursue these ideas with the aim to rethink the kind of society that might emerge based on the long-held goal of a more human society for humanity. The digital universe is already here, particularly resonating with young minds. These days, the mind is intuited more as a process than a thing. It's critical that we leverage this shift and rethink economic and social transformation with compelling ideas active in the world, more alive with flows than dead with objects.
The progression from agriculture to industrialization to digital forms an intuitive path that presents numerous opportunities, and with hard work and creativity, the potential to create a better world.