What does a post-industrial relationship with the land look like? There are emerging clues
Walking recently to the top of Sugar Loaf, the hill that overlooks Abergavenny, brought my grandfather to mind. He died about 20 years ago, and had a lifetime’s love of walking, though living in Co. Durham he was more a creature of the the Lakes and (especially) the Dales. He wouldn’t have thought much of the walk (barely an hour from car to trig point) or that we drove to the car park, about half of the distance from the A40 to the top, or even of our comfortable modern walking boots: he once told a cousin of my mother’s, after a day hiking together, that it wasn’t a real walk unless you had blood in your boots. So far, this perhaps sounds like a set of nostalgic North(East)ern cliches, but wrapped inside it is a set of questions about the land and our relation to it which are coming back into our minds at the end of the long ascendancy of industrialism.
The photographer Chris Jordan is the Breughel of waste, bringing us face to face with parts of our civilisation we’d prefer to look away from. I blogged about his work a couple of years ago – which he builds up, digitally, image by image, to try to represent visually the sheer weight of rubbish from our consumer culture. More than 400,000 mobile phones are ‘retired’ in the US every day. 2.4 million pieces of plastic enter the ocean every day. (‘Everything’s gonna be plastic‘ sang Woody Guthrie, 60 years ago). Each picture attempts to be a digital representation of a particular element of consumerism. Since I wrote the earlier post, the waste has got worse, and he’s published a book, Running The Numbers.
The start and the end of the documentary The End of The Line, which has now been released on DVD at least in the UK, (and which I blogged about when it was first shown in the cinema), is dominated by traditional ‘National Geographic’ type images. You know the sort of thing; sunlight streams through the water showing the richness and diversity of the sea, illuminating the many different and brightly coloured species below. It’s filmed in one of the few Marine Protected Areas, which together comprise about 1% of the ocean area, where fishing is not allowed. For the rest of it the story was dismal.
No sooner had I posted earlier this week about the iPad and Carlota Perez’ model of long-term patterns of technology innovation and investment than I opened Strategy + Business to discover that the venture capitalist and technology analyst Mark Stahlman was also using her model to predict that good times are, well, just around the corner. Very good times, to judge from his Bowie-esque title: ‘A New Golden Age’.
There are some good things about his piece in s+b. It’s a very clear description of Perez’ thinking, and the diagram of the Perez’ S-curve is far better designed than the one I used in my post – clean and clear.
And there are some not so good things, especially when he gets to the futures part of his article.
Now that the froth from the iPad launch has blown past, it’s worth stepping back a bit. For me, the most telling comments were not the ones which talked about functionality, but those which looked at what the iPad proposition told us about the state of the device and app market. Which is this: the computer technology market is now moving out of its technology-led phase.
A moment of theory might help. I’m quite influenced by the work of the economic historian Carlota Perez, who’s tracked five long phases, or surges, of technology innovation, going back to 1771. Each phase runs for 50-60 years and follows a common pattern (there’s more detail in the diagram below). There’s an ‘installation’ phase, in which the new technology platform spreads in visibility and usage (device penetration increases, underlying infrastructure is developed). There’s a bubble and a crash, in which investors get over-excited about the prospects. And then there’s a deployment phase, in which the applications associated with the technology platform deepen and broaden, and the underlying impacts on society become more profound. The ICT surge started in 1971, with the invention of the microprocessor. We’ve finished the installation phase, we’ve had the crash (dot.com, not global financial crash, though the two may be linked), and now we’re several years into the deployment phase. The iPad launch was another confirming sign of this.