The significance to mankind of the fifty or so years following 1975 cannot be overstated. Those who sat back and watched, or even those who went about their lives oblivious to the uber-revolution – those who did not actively participate – missed one of the three great transformations in the age of man. Those involved helped to shape no less than the long-term destiny of our species. Us involved and aware witnessed change on the same scale as mankind’s move from hunter-gatherer to agrarian and then to industrial. Oddly, though, few or none realized the true significance until decades after. We saw the changes and the effects, but did not see, as they say: “the forest through the trees.” We did not understand the impact relative to our species as a whole, that this time period was a shift evolutionary in scale.
I suppose that’s to be expected. Werner Hiesenberg postulated that on certain scales, it is not possible to observe without impacting the outcome. Certainly, he was speaking of photons and other subatomic quantum particles, but a logical corollary would state that on certain scales, it is not possible to recognize events while on the inside. You see this all the time in individual lives. How many times have you known a friend or family member to leave a relationship or a job and shortly thereafter, comment that they didn’t know how bad their situation was until they got out? As my good friend Mark Rules is so fond of saying: “Observation alters outcome. Involvement inhibits observation.”
The bigger the event, the more difficult it is to see. I’ve always suspected that physicists and cosmologists are unknowingly limited by this very problem as well. They try their best to understand this universe we are contained within, devising grand and complex theorems to describe our surroundings and the foundations of matter and existence. Their ideas certainly make sense. Yet, they are no more likely to really describe our universe than a life-long citizen of an overpopulated totalitarian state is to understand the sensation of true freedom.
If we ever break through the limitations of our physical bodies and venture beyond this universe, we will discover that the greatest of theoretical minds were doing little more that drawing extraordinarily complex and logical correlations based on carefully observed relationships. The conclusions seem accurate because they came to light in the brain of man and are devised from the basis of observations by the brain of man. They are interpretations rather than explanations. They are solution declared when we have yet to see the problem. It’s only natural of humankind to try and explain things. We have an instinctual fear of the unknown and an instinctual drive to understand. Yet, we are woefully ill equipped to relate to the size and scales on an infinite or near infinite nature.
The transformation I am speaking of is the beginning of the digital age of man. This is not something so simple as “a computer on every desk” any more than the industrial revolution was just about a broken down Buick in every backyard. This is a top-to-bottom shift in the very fabric of our tiny lives. The after, when compared to the prior, could very well lead an outsider to conclude that a new species of man had arrived to take up residence on the planet we call Earth. While the agrarian age gave man an amount of control and the industrial age added the ability to impact, the digital age is one of relinquishing control over self.
Every lifetime has a watershed, or turning point. Every generation has its pivotal moment and humanity, itself has experienced a number of major shifts. When all is at end and the last conscious soul looks back, perhaps few or none of these transitions will have had the significance as the one that began in the nineteen seventies. 1975 was the precise year when man began ceding the reins of existence to machine. It wasn’t an instant capitulation, but that year will come to be known as the start. The logarithmic curve of evolution toward digital manipulation shifted from mostly horizontal to mostly vertical in that year.
Prior to ’75, human activity, whether direct or mechanically assisted was brute force based. Systems were largely analog and passive. They were effected as a whole and by estimation. Technique and finesse were more concepts of wishful thinking than reality. 1975 was the beginning of the time of breaking systems and processes down into their component parts and actively controlling and managing piecemeal. Prior to that, bigger was better. We built bigger power plants, huge earth-moving machines, absurdly tall buildings and massive transportation systems. We pushed big chunks of things around. We impacted the whole rather than the parts.