How did we get into this situation anyway? Why not leave things the way they are?
In the last century or so, Americans have lived through several major life-changing periods. Just after America’s Civil War (1860-1865), we were still a rural and agricultural society. More people lived on farms than in cities. But then came the Industrial Revolution. I capitalized Industrial Revolution because my school teachers, when they discussed that period in American history, often said it with an intonation and emphasis that made it sound capitalized. They wanted us to know it was important. And it was. It was the first major change in the way we lived and interacted with others after the Civil War. Bear with me and I’ll explain. On farms, Americans were self-sufficient — but isolated. If you needed something you hitched up the wagon and drove many miles to town. You depended on your distant neighbors, of course, but you mainly depended on yourself and your family for day-to-day needs.
Then came changes. The Civil War set the changes in motion. There’s not space enough here to detail how this all came about — books have been written on the subject — but you can look it up. The country began to focus on industrialization. Factories sprang up and manufacturing started to become an important element of America’s economy. People moved off farms and into cities looking for better opportunities. They had better access to help and amenities. But this all came at a cost. In factories workers became less able to control their own lives. They did what the factory demanded of them. They made few decisions. The day was controlled by the factory whistle. The captains of industry were their bosses now. Cities were often clogged, dirty, and diseased. It was harder to feel the sunshine and breathe fresh air. That was the first major change.
The next change took a while. First came the vacuum tube to power radios, but the real milestone came in 1947 with the transistor, a semiconductor that was smaller and took much less electricity. It revolutionized electronics. Today we depend on its progeny: computers and calculators that we could not live without. They permeate every aspect of our daily lives. So, that’s two great changes in American life since the Civil War. What’s the next change? Probably autonomous cars. We have a society that has come to depend on the car. As a product of the Industrial Revolution, it too dominates our lives. Now it’s about to morph into something that Henry Ford could never have imagined. Will it change our lives? Will it be the third great change in modern American life? There are good reasons to think so.
In the next blog, I’ll discuss the changes that autonomous cars may introduce to the world. These changes are not just being implemented here in the US, but also worldwide, anyplace that the car has taken hold.