The Industrial Revolution – When Everything Happened
So far in this series, I have written about the Sailing Ship and the Steam Engine. These were fairly straightforward developments.
But in the next one hundred years or so, these technologies arose:
- Electricity – including the Telegraph and the Telephone and then the Electric Motor
- The Movies
- The Automobile – which included the Internal Combustion Engine, the Pneumatic Tire, and the Public Road System
- Electronics – the Vacuum Tube
All these were overlapping developments – the development of Electricity, for example, overlapped the development of the Steam Engine. This made for endless confusion. There were also many secondary developments, such as the Airplane, that I will not go into here.
An important source for the first combination (Electricity and Photography) is The Image, by Daniel J. Boorstin. I quote from the Introduction:
In this book I describe the world of our own making; how we have used our wealth, our literacy, our technology, and our progress, to create a thicket of unreality which stands between us and the facts of life. I recount the historical forces which have given us this unprecedented opportunity to deceive ourselves and to befog our experience.
And he proceeds to do just that.
In what follows, I will give my own slant on his findings – which concentrate on the technologies involved.
First of all – Electricity, the gradual development of which would eventually overshadow everything else, with the Computer. But its first impact was in the Telegraph and the Telephone. Which were largely responsible for the collapse of the Modern World late in the 19th Century.
This is an outlandish claim – allow me to substantiate it.
The reason for this was simple – Information, which had been limited by the time required to physically move across the world (it could take months to just cross the Atlantic Ocean) was sudden accomplished in less than a second! Space and time no longer mattered!
And we poor species, who had evolved in a Stone Age, had no way of comprehending this. Our social development had lagged far behind our technological development. There were some (perhaps twenty percent of the population) who could comprehend this. But the mass of people (and they had become a mass by then) simply went crazy. And they have never recovered.
That is my summary of the social developments due to Industrialization – rampant craziness, and nearly constant war.
I return to what Boorstin called The Graphic Revolution – the combination of Electricity and Photography – a very potent combination. I have spoken of the Telegraph. Soon photographs were being transmitted on it and appearing in the newspapers. People were fascinated. The world was being recreated right in front of their eyes!
Let me repeat that – people were taking the place of God – and becoming demigods themselves! This was a development they could not resist!
So far, Electricity had been limited to the transmission of Information – even though this was long before our present Age of Information. Soon, it would also be used for Power - at first mainly in light bulbs (or arc-lights) to replace the existing gas lighting. The development of long-distance electrical power networks was a long time coming, and depended on a number of other developments – such as as the use of alternating current instead of direct current (the kind favored by Edison).
It took a long time for business to replace the mechanical power transmission in factories with electric motors. And also for homes to use electrical appliances – the Refrigerator only became common in the Fifties, when it replaced the icebox.
But meanwhile (note how many overlapping events were going on) another event was happening that would have enormous implications. The development of the Movies (or the Cinema, in Europe).
My own father was a home movie maker (8 mm) in the Thirties (when, as a Marine, he was part of an occupation of Haiti) and in WWII and the Forties. He also operated a Photography studio.
He told me once that when his Marine Corp buddies were visiting a local brothel (a common occurrence at the time) he took the Madam’s daughter to the Movies. Everyone went to the Movies at least once a week during the Depression. And movie stars, and news of their lives, were eagerly consumed.
But – in another overlapping development – the Radio appeared. Mass communications became an integral part of people’s lives. This, and the Movies became the twin technologies of Nazism.
Electronics was also born – another development of Electricity – just in time for WWII. The key component here was the vacuum tube (of many different kinds) – the miracle device of its time.
The Automobile – a BIG development – had also been changing everything. This was the combination of two technologies – the Internal Combustion Engine (which eventually replaced the Steam Engine, even on the Railroads) and the Pneumatic Tire. And also the publicly-owned hard-surfaced roads without which they would have been useless. These replaced the Railroad lines, which were all privately-owned.
American society changed itself completely to accommodate the Car. My Father’s father died in his barn with his beloved horses. My father died in his beloved car.
The world was not only becoming complicated – it had become complex (many different forces acting on each other at the same time). This in itself was not a problem, people had always lived in a complex world. And were used to thinking of many things acting at the same time.
But with so many new developments going on all over the place, people were overwhelmed – and unable to notice hardly anything – while thinking they were noticing everything - as they were constantly told by the Media.
A very important development in itself.