Skip to content

Technology (12): Rise and Fall, Part 2

This post contains a few snapshots from a post by Jerry Neumann (The Deployment Age) and a great overview on the Death and Birth of Technological Revolutions by Ben Thompson (see Stratechery) which he describes as a woefully incomplete summary of Carlota Perez’s Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital. All are highly recommended.

If you look at the history of technological innovation over the course of decades or centuries, not just years… It looks like innovation comes in waves: great surges of technological development followed by quieter periods of adaptation.

The past 240 years have seen four of these great surges and the first half of a fifth.

We’re all familiar with the industrial revolution, with its mechanization of textile mills, the spread of water power and canals, and the massive increase in productivity. This was followed by the spread of the railways and steam power, the age of steel, and the Age of Oil, Autos, and Mass Production (from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1970s.) The wave that we are currently in, the Information and Communications Technology Revolution, started around 1971.

These cycles have eerie similarities. Each is characterized by

– some critical factor of production suddenly becoming very cheap,
– some new infrastructure being built,
– a laissez-faire period of wrenching innovation followed by a bubble,
– a post-bubble recession,
– a re-assertion of institutional authority, and then
– a period of consolidation and wide spread of the gains in productivity from using the new technology.

Jerry Neumann – The Deployment Age at Reaction Wheel


Here’s a figure from Ben Thompson that unpacks the details a bit more…

The lifecycle of technological revolutions
Source: Stratechery

… and even more here, showing what tends to happen in the wider economy.

Recurring phases of each great surge
Source: Stratechery

Surf’s up

When you put these waves together, it looks something like this:

The Elements of a Technological Revolution
Source: Stratechery

That’s the fascinating big picture. For more you’re better off reading those sources than summaries from me.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...