The legacy of the industrial revolution.

Many legacies of the industrial revolution no longer serve us in the 21st century. Such legacies as efficiency and convenience were borne as a result of a trade off. These trade offs were unconscious as we became increasingly effective in manufacturing and production. I’d like to explore these trade offs so we can consciously consider whether these are what we want or indeed, what we need in the current century.

Railway tracks

Efficiency versus originality

The industrial revolution gave us the ability to manufacture at scale. A prerequisite for large scale production is standardisation and repeatability. Standardisation is essential for high quality reproduction. This necessarily is at the expense of originality.

In a world where technology provides access to almost anything from anywhere, sameness is no longer desirable. People compete fiercely on originality, while existing in a super-system predominantly geared toward mass production. This is why organisations like Etsy are doing well. They provide access to artefacts made by artisans, with high levels of originality … artisans and makers who are not part of the mass production life cycle.

Convenience versus imagination

We have also inherited the expectation of convenience through the delivery of same-same products and services. They are functional, and the simple designs can also be beautiful, though they don’t really send our imaginations racing.

Convenience also feeds predictability which no doubt is a desirable experience for some. The McDonalds cheeseburger tastes the same in almost every city. Though this experience doesn’t introduce horizon expanding tastes and experiences to fuel our imaginations. It would be easy to quote Einstein here but instead I’ll make one up. Our imagination is essential to making an idea a reality. Without our imagination, we cannot create alternate futures for humanity.

Things versus purpose

Efficient production and 1950s driven consumer ethos has not made people happy. People have many things, though have difficulty answering the question, “why do I do what I do?” A sense of purpose is becoming increasingly important to both individuals and organisations. People realise ‘things’ don’t buy fulfilment in their personal lives, or in their careers. This trade off is losing it’s shine as more and more people are questioning how they spend their time. Value is placed on more intangible aspects of life like meaning, expression, connection and freedom.

So then…

Surfacing unconscious trade offs we have made as humanity evolved through our ages, helps identify what could be challenged as a part of our current status quo. What could we be redesigning? What trade offs are we unconsciously making today that will have someone else challenge our decisions in 100 years?