Society and Technology

Binary stars are two stars that orbit around their common center of mass. They are drawn to each other and kept in orbit due to the gravitational force that each one exerts on the other. Change the trajectory of one star and the other’s trajectory changes too.

In the human universe, society and technology form a binary star system. Any social construct is only relevant in a particular technological paradigm. The industrial revolution of the 18th and the 19th centuries gave rise to communism, capitalism and colonialism. In the 20th century, our technological progress led to two devastating world wars, which then pushed the world towards more open borders and immigration, with liberal democracy being the most favored social construct. In all these cases, society organized itself in direct response to technological progress.

We might be tempted to think that this is a recent phenomena, but it has been true since the very formation of our species. The origins of homo-sapiens can be traced back to the discovery of fire and the invention of stone tools. These technologies turned us into tribes of hunters and gatherers. A further technological leap, agriculture, led to the coalescence of tribes into kingdoms and gave rise to religion. Religion held the reigns until scientific and technological progress in the eras of the renaissance and enlightenment culminated in the industrial revolution.

Once technology advances, the social construct that surrounds it also needs to evolve. In Naval Ravikant’s words, technology is the engine that drives humanity forward. Seen this way, technology is the smaller star with the quicker orbit, while society is the larger and more lumbering star that resists change.

A further challenge that society has to cope with is that the rate of technological increase is exponential. After fire was discovered, it took us two million years to get to agriculture. From agriculture to smartphones, it has taken us only 10,000 years. We have now compressed leaps of similar significance into a century. It won’t be long before we leap forward at such a rate in a matter of decades. 2 million years was plenty of time for humanity to adapt from fire to agriculture. A mere 100 years to go from smartphones to the next technological leap won’t be easy.

In the 21st century, we are in a position to make calculated guesses on where technology is headed. The most important question of this century is how should be design society to cope with this change? What should its new trajectory look like?

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