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The Belle Epoque from 1871 to the end of World War I in 1914 was a golden age of optimism and peace across Europe accompanied by the fast pace of change in technology and numerous scientific discoveries resulting in improved lives and the blooming of culture. The United States, with a similar experience, referred to this period as the “Gilded Age”.
Though the first industrial revolution, which began in the 18th century, had dramatically transformed society, there was little scientific underpinning to the technological developments that occurred. Concepts like chemistry, metallurgy, and thermodynamics were in their infancy. Engineering, medical technology and agriculture were also organized and more efficient but still without a strong foundation in the scientific method. Many people spent huge amounts of time and energy on “voodoo sciences” like alchemy, perpetual motion machines, etc. and as society took on a more rational way of examining the world, the revolution picked up steam.
When the second industrial revolution began in the last quarter century of the 19th century, the world experienced decades of the most fruitful innovations the world had ever seen.The reason for this was the beginning of a continuous feedback loop between the sciences and technology, in which new ideas were communicated, assessed and, if valid, quickly improved upon and turned into products and services.
This went on for a century with living standards improving rapidly resulting in broad middle classes in industrialized countries. This age was not all rosy, as manufacturing was built upon new industries like chemicals which caused considerable angst and trepidation amongst the general population. In addition, people were forced to think on a larger scale than ever before, mostly based on the need to scale up manufacturing to provide products and services to mass populations. As a result, social relations changed radically. Steel, chemicals, electricity, transportation, production engineering, agriculture, food processing, new household technology and new medical procedures and equipment laid the foundation for a more prosperous and fast-paced world.
Infant mortality between 1870 in 1914 declined by 50% as more people could buy better food, live in heated dwellings, buy better clothes, find clean running water, use an improving medical care system and avoid diseases from waste and sewage.
The infrastructure built from the beginning of the second industrial revolution, throughout the 20th century, and in the decades leading up to today has been falling apart.
With the first major oil shocks of the 1970s, the rise of OPEC, the ongoing Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union, and a series of wars in the Middle East over fossil fuel resources and their drag on the world economy, the last three decades of the 20th century revealed serious cracks in the foundation of modern society. Fortunately, these years also witnessed the emergence of new technologies, like computers and the Internet which have become new building blocks of the third industrial revolution.
Repairing the infrastructure of the second industrial revolution is not even a serious question today; the infrastructure will fundamentally change and look nothing like its predecessor.
The next century, already well under way, is seeing the emergence of faster trains and planes, space travel and exploration, huge breakthroughs in life sciences and medicine, all based on new ways of doing things, a new philosophical outlook.
Nations are now working together to solve huge mutual challenges. If the last century centered around competition between nations for survival and prosperity this new century is focused on cooperation and sustainability for all.
The fundamental changes include: switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, creating small power plants for every building in the world and new energy storage technologies, replacing the electric grid with a new more efficient “energy Internet”, and transitioning from the internal combustion engine to electric and fuel-cell powered vehicles.
The Third Industrial Revolution, championed by Jeremy Rifkin, is being built by the first Internet generation and their offspring who are comfortable with sharing and collaboration over the Internet.
Previous generations tended to be “top-down” and hierarchical, whereas the Internet generation is more collegial and collaborative. At the same time every country in the world must become self-sufficient, especially energy wise, as an entry point into the world economy. Sustainable energy infrastructure in each country will allow it to provide basic services to its people, education through electronic devices and the Internet, decreasing health and political crises, and a “pass” to participate in a competitive, open and innovative world economy.
If all goes well the second half of the 21st century will see all humanity in a new Belle Epoque.
Tags: Industrial Revolution
This entry was posted on September 11th, 2014 and is filed under Uncategorized. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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