Societal ‘Macro-Effects’ of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ Laws

Corollaries and addenda to the essay : What are Causing the Media Environment to Change?

There are many corollary ‘macro-effects’ of the interactions of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws that go far beyond just the media industries. These fall into three broad categories (industrial, societal, and superdynamic) and warrant further study by experts smarter than I.

Here are some societal macro-effects:

One observable macro-effect of the three laws’ interactions is the ending to the ‘Digital Divide’ (i.e., poor people not being able to afford computer technologies and online services). The effects of Moore’s Law constantly decrease the expense of technologies. Likewise, Cooper’s and Butters’ Laws is constantly increasing the ease and access by which people can connect and use such technologies. During the Industrial Era, decades used to elapse before the poor could afford the technologies of the rich, but the meteoric pace of change brought by computerization is ever shortening that lapse. For examples, there are now more mobile phones used by Africans than Europeans or North Americans, despite those two other continents having more than 20-times Africa’s per capital incomes. A recent survey in Honduras, the second poorest country in the Americas, found that even the lowest-income households (i.e., those likely to lack running water) possessed not only a mobile phone (handset street price equivalent to USD5 plus rechargeable ‘pay-as-you-go’ calling credits) but a LCD‑screen DVD player (street price USD20) and a microwave oven (which are cheaper to purchase than conventional ovens and require no physical installation). A few years ago in South Africa, I met a successful local entrepreneur whose business in the huge ghetto township in which he resided was to solicit collection of  mobile phone videos of weddings, anniversaries, and other events, and to tun those videos into DVDs, which he then sold for $0.50 each as an electronic form of community newspaper. He succeeded because so many people in the township owned mobile phones and DVD players.

Poor countries are beginning to afford and utilize advanced technologies that only rich countries had been able to afford. In some cases, poor countries are leap-frogging rich countries in technological infrastructure. Countries such as Mongolia or Montenegro now have more advanced telephone infrastructures than do the United States or the United Kingdom, simply because not only are new technologies for telephones now less expensive to purchase but are easier to install in less developed countries that don’t have vested legacies and that delay installing advancement until the costs of older technologies are amortized. Moore’s and Cooper’s laws made mobile telephony relatively inexpensive and easier to deploy than copper-wired telephony.  Meanwhile, Moore’s and Butters’ laws are causing wired systems to be replaced by photonics, which is phenomenally cheaper signal-carrying capacity/costs than copper wire.

Increasingly large technological gaps within peer groups. Although the three laws’ interactions are closing the ‘Digital Divide’, an odd macro‑effect is that the interactions are causing technological fissures within peer groups. When the paces of change were slower, the technologies affordable and used by a demographic rank were generally the same for long duration. For example, audio recordings sold in the form of vinyl discs for gramophones (i.e., phonographs), a technology invented in 1889, were for some 100 years the primary musical entertainment technology for consumers. Audio recorded on Compact Discs (‘CDs’) began superseding gramophone discs around 1989, but themselves had much shorter popularity before beginning to be superseded in turn by directly downloaded audio recordings. For video recordings, the progression from Video Home System (‘VHS’) tapes to Digital Versatile Discs (‘DVD’s) to directly downloaded video recordings showed even shorter technological ‘half-lives’. The progression from analog mobile telephone handsets to digital ones to Internet-equipped digital ones to broadband Internet-equipped digital ones to ‘smartphones’ has shown remarkably short technological ‘half-lives’.  Consumers have to adjust to new technologies ever more quickly.

The result is that households within demographic peer groups are increasingly less likely to all be using the same levels of technology. This result occurs less among younger peer groups, who always tend to adapt more quickly than any other demographic, but this result is becoming ever more easily observable among older peer groups. It seems increasingly unlikely that all consumers—even most peers within a demographic rank—will ever again all be using the same platform, nonetheless using any one platform for a decade or more. Our grandparents or parents might have used gramophone records or Compact Discs for decades, but our children probably won’t use any one medium platform or device for long. Last year in a popular restaurant in my town, I overhead a foursome of ladies in their seventies discuss whether or not they used personal computers much, while nearly another table of women the same age was comparing various speech-to-text software programs. Wide technological gaps like that within a common demographic were highly unlikely in previous generations, but will probably be common occurrence for the future. As science fiction writer William Gibson quipped, “The future is here, just unevenly distributed.”

The best skill to learn is how to learn new skills. During previous centuries and generations, the skill one learned young generally was the skill one used all one’s life. For example, if you apprenticed as a baker, it was very likely that you’d be a baker all your life. However, this dynamic began ending two or three generation ago, and has now become ever more unlikely. It’s not unusual for educated people in developed countries to have not only more than one job during their lifetimes, but a career spent in more than one industry. As the ever-accelerating paces of change make previous technologies increasingly obsolete, and with those obsolete technologies more and more businesses, trades, and industries, archaic, obsolete (‘disrupted’), or defunct, many skills learned young (such as in college) will also become archaic, obsolete, or defunct. This new dynamic will put increasing pressure on the traditional system of providing education primarily before people are aged in their mid-twenties. People that old have the majority of their careers ahead of them, during which they will experience an extraordinary amount of changes – likely more changes than all previous human generations combined. They will thus probably need constant retraining and continuing education rather than relying upon only what they learned in consecutive years of secondary and higher education during their teens and early twenties. They will need to learn how constantly to learn new skills. I believe the business models of colleges and universities, in order for such institutions to survive and be relevant in the 21st Century, must change to focus primarily on continuing education rather simply than educating young people.

Increasingly polarized societies. Fear of change is called metathesiophobia. Change causes anxiety and stress in most people: indeed, in most creatures. History holds many precedents showing that when stressed by change, large numbers of people will seek comfort in traditional values, theories, and practices, rather than accept change. As the English historian A.P.J. Taylor explained (using the British term for this macro-effect), “Toryism rests on doubt in human nature; it distrusts improvement, clings to traditional institutions, and prefers the past to the future. It is a sentiment rather than a principle.” (Some historical examples are the Roman Catholic Church’s retreat from, and later persecution of Galileo and other heliocentrics; the German people’s conservative electoral swerve during the Great Depression; or the rise of the American conservative movement once the practical limits of United States global hegemony or power were reached during the 1970’s.) Many people, including those who offer pay lip-service to change, retreat into the seeming sanctuary of tradition as a defense against change. This sociological effect by itself exacerbates cultural or industrial adaption to change, creating turbulence, difficulties, and polarization of large segments of society. Given the ever‑accelerating paces of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ Laws, those problems might become more formidable, even chaotic, during coming years.

An appointment with Fermi’s Paradox. Indeed, as Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ laws double their paces every nine to 30 months, creating hyperbolic technological progress, some reputable futurists believe that during the first half of this century the sheer pace of change — unless checked by war or economic depression — will ultimately skyrocket so rapidly it will merge into a ‘singularity’ that will “rupture the fabric of human history. According to these dire predictions, new products, services, business models, even new ideas, will become instantly obsolete, almost immediately replaced by newer, until our technological capabilities will eclipse our caution and comprehension. This concept of a technological ‘singularity’, which some other futurists criticize as alarmist or as a techno-utopian fantasy, might seem absurd to laymen, yet the observable validity of Moore’s, Cooper’s, Butters’ laws, and similar dynamics, indicates its possibility. I hope the truth will be somewhere between those two contrasting views. Perhaps people’s (households’, industries’, societies’, and governments’) limited human capabilities to deal with such pace of change will create a sufficient behavioral constraint on such hyperbolic changes. If not, the instabilities human actions or reactions to ever-accelerating technologies will probably lead to war or economic chaos or worse: human inability to be the species that transcends Fermi’s Paradox!

Next: Superdynamic ‘Macro-Effects’ of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ Laws.   See also: Industrial ‘Macro-Effects’ of Moore’s, Cooper’s, and Butters’ Laws.

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