Geoffrey West made virtually the same point in his recent book “Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies.” I also recommend you read his book, if you haven’t already.

West found that continuous growth requires a continual doubling of the pace of innovation. At some point the amount of knowledge needed to sustain this (continuously going up) together with the amount of time we have to acquire it (continuously going down) catches up to us. At that point we either collapse or there’s a dramatic paradigm shift that essentially resets the clock on innovation. As I recall, West concluded that we are due for a major societal paradigm shift within the next 30 years given the current pace of technological change. The alternative is collapse, which obviously wouldn’t be pretty.

He also indicated, as you do in your article, that the form this paradigm shift takes will likely not be anything we are able to foresee. While we know what these shifts looked like in the past, the change in values and associated social transformations that take place when such shifts occur can, for the most part, only be speculated about. Likewise the consequences that follow from these shifts cannot be foretold. All we can be sure of is that they will seem obvious in retrospect to future generations. No one saw the Reformation coming, for example, though given the state of affairs at the time it seems obvious to us now that something like it was in the cards. The paradigm shift in Europe that Martin Luther kicked off likewise was largely made possible by the printing press, the Internet of its day. But again, no one could have foreseen what the results of that major technological innovation would be in advance.

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US citizen residing in British Columbia, Canada. Degrees include anthropology and environmental studies. Activism, politics, science, nature.

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