Energy-sharing is the new internet, according to Jeremy Rifkin in this month’s Wired. In talking about the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ he makes some interesting observations about the connectedness of both communications and energy technologies in bringing about significant societal change, as happened in the two previous industrial revolutions (more below).
I wonder what you think about his predictions about energy change. Let me know by leaving a comment below.
“History’s great economic revolutions occur when new communication technologies converge with new energy systems. Energy revolutions make possible more expansive and integrated trade. Accompanying communication revolutions manage the new complex commercial activities. In the 18th and 19th centuries, cheap print technology and the introduction of state schools gave rise to a print-literate workforce with the skills to manage the increased commercial activity made possible by coal and steam power, ushering in the First Industrial Revolution. In the 20th century, centralised electricity communication — the telephone, radio and television — became the medium to manage a more complex and dispersed oil, auto and suburban era, and the mass consumer culture of the Second Industrial Revolution.
“Today, internet technology and renewable energies are about to merge to create a powerful infrastructure for a Third Industrial Revolution (TIR).
“The democratisation of energy will also bring with it a reordering of human relationships, impacting the way we conduct business, govern society, educate our children and engage in civic life.
“The TIR will lay the foundations for a collaborative age. Its completion will signal the end of a 200-year commercial saga characterised by industrious thinking, entrepreneurial markets and mass workforces, and the beginning of a new era marked by collaborative behaviour, social networks and boutique professional and technical workforces. In the coming half-century, conventional, centralised business operations will be increasingly subsumed by the distributed business practices of the TIR; and the traditional, hierarchical organisation of power will give way to lateral power organised nodally across society.
“Today, however, the collaborative power unleashed by internet technology and renewable energies restructures human relationships, from top to bottom to side to side, with profound consequences. The music companies didn’t understand distributed power until millions of people began sharing music online, and corporate revenues tumbled in less than a decade. Encyclopedia Britannica did not appreciate the collaborative power that made Wikipedia the leading reference source in the world. Newspapers didn’t take the blogosphere seriously; now many titles are either going out of business or moving online. The implications of people sharing energy are even more far-reaching.
“The democratisation of information and communication has altered the nature of global commerce and social relations as significantly as the print revolution. Now, imagine the impact that the democratisation of energy across all of society is likely to have when managed by internet technology.”
Jeremy Rifkin is president of the Foundation on Economic Trends and the bestselling author of nineteen books on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment.