The Symbolic Revolution

Five thousand years ago, nomads still roamed the earth. They wore their few precious possessions on their backs and carried them in their hands. They hunted and gathered food according to their whims.

Then came the Agricultural Revolution, during which people settled and became emotionally, physically, and legally attached to specific plots of land. They grew their food according to a predetermined schedule. They tamed animals. This novel mode of human existence resulted in dramatic changes in demographic patterns.

It would be another 4500 years before the Industrial Revolution began. Its primary accomplishment was the decoupling of raw materials and means of production from the land. Additionally, it emphasized the importance of an educated workforce. This Revolution spawned cities (which provided labor for mega-factories), mass education systems, and leisure.

For the first time in history, people gained access to unstructured time.

Numerous organizations, firms, and institutions have sprung up in response to the insatiable desire for entertainment and the growing complexity of social and economic institutions.

Contrary to popular belief, service-oriented societies were – and continue to be – an integral part of the industrial world.

Today, we are in the midst of the most powerful storm in recorded history: the Third Wave (to borrow Alvin Toffler’s excellent euphemism). This is the Age of Information and Knowledge. It is resulting in an economy based on the accumulation, processing, and dissemination of information (the information equivalent of raw materials) and knowledge (the equivalent of processed goods). All of these will be made available to an ever-growing segment of society.

Indeed, this is what distinguishes this Revolution from its forerunners:

(1) It is equitable – it is open to anyone and everyone.

To take part in the previous two Revolutions, substantial capital was required. Where capital was deficient – raw force was employed to acquire raw materials, capital goods, land, and other means of production (including very cheap labour in the form of slavery).

This Revolution is different: all that is required are sound ideas, a modicum of (ever diminishing) technical expertise, and ever-cheaper infrastructure.

As a result, this Revolution is accessible to young people in their own garages (this is how computer giants such as Apple Computers and Microsoft were established).

It is non-discriminatory: age, gender, race, colour, national origin, and sexual preferences are irrelevant. The Great Equalizer is this Revolution.

(2) For the first time in human history, raw materials, manufacturing processes, finished products, marketing and distribution channels are all integrated into a single entity. Consider the following example of online sales of products (e.g., software):

On computers, software is written in programming languages – the manipulation of electronic bits in a simulated environment. Thus, the product (=software), the manufacturing processes (=programming languages), the raw materials (mental algorithms converted to electronic bits), and the marketing and distribution channels (the Internet’s electronic bit streams) are all constructed from the same elements and components.

This is why technology is so affordable. This is why the forthcoming Revolution’s products will be so easily disseminated. Manufacturing and distribution will become routine – rather than arcane – activities.

(3) The Agricultural Revolution influenced only a portion of our forefathers. Only a few of them are directly related to the Industrial Revolution. Gradually, the percentage of the population engaged in agricultural work decreased from well over 60% to less than 3%. (in the USA, for instance). A similar decline can be observed among the population segment engaged in industry.

However, this is not true of the third Revolution:

There is no human being on the planet who is unaffected by the third and most profound Revolution of all: the Information / Knowledge Revolution.

We are all exposed to radio, television, computers, cellular phones, and the Internet on a daily basis. By the month, these products and services become more affordable, available, and accessible. The new Revolution is pervasive and comprehensive.

(4) The aforementioned characteristics resulted in a new type of economic development: decentralised, high value added, rapid growth, and short business cycles. It is the world’s first non-mercantilist, non-colonial epoch. Historically, all economic activity was defined by the importation of raw materials at low prices from the very markets that absorbed the finished products (made from those raw materials) at much higher prices.

This method of exploitation will eventually become obsolete. It is no longer relevant where goods are manufactured. The distinction between finished products and raw materials has become so permeable (even in the case of traditional industrial products) that the traditional distinction between “coloniser” and “colony” has all but vanished.

This holds enormous promise for developing and less-developed countries.

They would have required enormous amounts of capital and other non-monetary resources in the (near) past to achieve parity with the more developed part of the World. Today, significantly less investment is required to obtain the same results. The world is finally transforming into what Marshall McLuhan, the sage of Western media, dubbed “The Global Village.” It is less important WHERE you are – it is more important WHAT you think. A premium is placed on innovation, creativity, improvisation, and the entrepreneurial spirit on a global economic scale.

These new mental commodities are abundant and equally accessible to all countries on the planet: rich and poor, off-center and on-center, developed and developing, and less developed.

The traditional economic model of evolution from agricultural to industrial to service economies is being phased out. The new economic thinking encourages countries – such as Macedonia – to accelerate their transition from agriculture to the Third Wave of information and knowledge industries. Macedonia is better equipped to support these types of industries because they are affordable, accessible, simple to comprehend and implement, highly profitable, and constantly evolving and progressing.

Macedonia will not be the first country to pursue such an audacious policy of leaping ahead and skipping the Industrial stage entirely – directly into the Information age. Israel has done so previously, as have Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and (to a lesser extent and with caution) India. All of these countries were born impoverished. Some are merely deserts, while others are isolated, barren islands or areas that are severely overpopulated. However, they all became heavily involved in the revolution as it unfolded. All of them (except India, which is a new, half-hearted entrant) have the world’s highest per capita GNP.

The gamble has been successful.

However, there is an intriguing side effect to such a choice.

The transition from industry to information technology and knowledge industries represents a paradigm shift in how we deal with reality. The techniques for manipulating symbols are identical – regardless of the symbols. If a country is successful in training symbol operators, they will be able to manipulate, operate, and transform any type of symbol.

This is also true for the most powerful symbol of all: money.

As we all know, money is a symbol. It is a term that refers to an agreement reached between members of a group of people. It possesses no intrinsic worth. The same techniques used to manipulate data are easily applicable to manipulating the monetary symbol.

THE MORE ADVANCED A COUNTRY IS AT PROCESSING SYMBOLS (=INFORMATION), THE MORE ADVANCED IT IS IN ALL TYPES OF FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS. It is more likely to attract investments, develop thriving stock exchanges and money markets, train young professionals, engage in commerce, and, in general, become entangled in the very fabric of the modern international economy.

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