John McCann

Participation Age Perestroika

In Content workers, Early Predictions, Technology on April 18, 2006 at 4:16 pm

The Participation Age is a new age for the planet, in general, and the United States in particular. As is the case in any new age, we must have a restructuring of our economy so that we can move from old practices into new ones. Such a reconstruction has been called a perestroika in the context of the restructuring of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.

In the 1990 book Bionomics, Michael Rothschild provides an analysis and forecast of the perestroika associated with the emergence of the Participation Age.

"Most technical advances lead to only minor improvement in products and slight changes in the organization of work. A modified condenser might boost the power of a steam locomotive, but it wouldn't radically affect the work of the train's crew or fundamentally alter the economic role of railroads. But, in rare cases, an especially potent new technology will trigger a restructuring that ripples throughout the entire economy — from the lowliest work cells to the largest organizations. Today, as the twentieth century draws to a close, we are in the midst of precisely this kind of massive structural transformation. Because we lack the benefit of hindsight, we cannot fully appreciate the magnitude of the economic restructuring we are now experiencing. But our descendants will almost certainly judge the 'computer-on-a-chip' to be the most economically significant technical achievement of the previous 500 years. The microprocessor will rank at the very pinnacle of human invention because — like the printing press — it slashed the cost of encoding, copying, and communicating information. And, by doing so, it has brought vast areas of previously unattainable knowledge within human grasp and has made possible a staggering array of new products. Today these products are profoundly altering the capabilities of millions of work cells in every niche of the global economy. … By delivering on the promise of computer technology, the microprocessor thrust the world's capitalist economies into a new economic era — the Information Age. Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and a founder of Intel Corporation, wrote: 'Just as the Industrial Revolution enabled man to apply and control greater physical power than his own muscle could provide, so electronics has extended his intellectual power. … As millions of microprocessors flooded into the economy, it was as if the information-processing power of each work cell's nucleus was abruptly and immensely multiplied. With their newly acquired personal computers, front-line managers began exercising a level of control that was previously unimaginable. Production cells that had always depended upon instructions from remote headquarters cells suddenly were empowered with enough information-processing capacity to make fast, rational decisions on their own. In short, microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy. In a turbulent decade, with little conscious awareness of the fundamental forces at play, and without any plan, the economy spontaneously restructured itself in what amounted to an unsung American perestroika."

The key phrase: "microprocessor technology radically boosted the productive potential of every work cell in the economy." Every work cell, be it a person, group, department, remote location or team, could now use this new productive potential to participate independently. This is the very nature of the Participation Age.


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