The industrial revolution is probably the first thing that comes to mind if we were to name an event in history that has shaped our current industrial structure. But it did not happen yesterday, actually some 250 years ago. But can we still learn something from it? History is, as we all know, very often used as a means to predict the future, and to view our current situation. May be it can therefore form a basis for some thoughts around our current revolution, digitalisation.
This will be the first part of a two part series, in the second part I will view digitalisation from the perspective of the computer revolution.
So without further nonsense, let’s turn the pages back a few chapters to the industrial revolution. Or revolutions actually, as historians have identified two of them in the 18th and 19th century. We can find some interesting key points without delving too far into the details of these events.
The changes brought on by the industrial revolution started in manufacturing. From there on the waves hit almost every sector. This is where they differ from digitalisation, as its roots are not in manufacturing, and especially not textile industry.
The fact that the roots of digitalisation are not in manufacturing does not mean that manufacturing is not relevant. We should actually put manufacturing closer to the centre of the equation. The industrial revolutions brought the machines to the shop floor, and digitalisation enables them to work and talk to each other. It means that the consumer can communicate directly with the manufacturing unit, or actually all players in the supply chain can. This new era in manufacturing has a few different names, the World Economic Forum (WEF) likes to talk about the forth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is another one very commonly used.
One of the prominent factors about the industrial revolutions is the way they affected labour. They massively changed the way we work. I deliberately use the term changed, as they succeeded in creating totally new jobs rather than just make work obsolete. This is also very visible in digitalisation. New opportunities pop up for the players acting at the forefront of change. But this change is still far from complete.
The current industries at the forefront of digitalisation such as media or travel are not very labour intensive, or at least when we compare them to manufacturing. This means that the major changes in bigger structures can, and most probably will spawn from the digitalisation process in manufacturing. The changes here along with similar one in other labour intensive sectors like healthcare and the public sector will most likely provide the biggest actual changes, ones that we can feel everywhere.
Viewing digitalisation from a historical perspective is quite interesting. It teaches us a lot of things, not at least that history has a habit of repeating itself. But that should come as no surprise however. Our history as well as our future is mostly shaped by us, human beings. So let’s all play our part in shaping tomorrow.