How history and technology are related.
I am a big history buff which used to be my favorite subject in school and to date the histories of different eras continues to fascinate me. My choice to work in technology marketing also makes me a geek, therefore inspiring me to dedicate this article to talking about both and how they are related.
In the 1500s, advances in navigation technology mixed with courage allowed Christopher Columbus to sail across the Atlantic to find the Americas. For years after, the Spanish reaped the rewards of shipping gold and other precious jewels to Spain thanks, in part, to holding the edge in navigation technology, allowing the Monarchy to reign for 50 odd years as the undisputed global power – the Hegemon. A hegemon is defined as the center of the world, economically; a global super-power that we all know to be the US today. However history is littered with examples of hegemons that capitalized on the technological advances of their era to rule.
In the 1600s, albeit for a short while, the Dutch held the Hegemon title, once again thanks to superior shipping innovations. For 200 years after the Dutch, it was for the English to carry the crown, establishing a hegemony status with the steam engine, textile mill and other revolutions of the Industrial Era. The English imported raw material from all over the world only to re-export them as finished goods.
War in the first half of the 1900s brought a new player to the front – USA, who continues to dominate the global landscape. The US was crowned Hegemon thanks to technology advances in weaponry, such as the Oppenheimer’s Nuclear Bomb, information technology including Cerf’s Internet, automotive with Ford’s Automobile, and space with Armstrong’s trip to the Moon. The list is endless. The era of the US Baby Boomers resulted in an army of engineers who powered the innovation engine, giving birth to Silicon Valley, Facebook, Wall Street and has firmly implanted the US as the hegemon of our lifetime.
Today, technology is still evolving and it is thought that the crown may eventually pass to China, which is accredited with inventing paper, the compass, gunpowder and printing. The timing is suspect with the current financial crisis; however I choose not to speculate; this is not about politics, but about advances in technology that determine the duration of hegemon status adorned by a country.
So, a question presents itself: Who will be the next hegemon? Which technology, with a confluence of several other factors – social, financial, etc, will determine the next lynchpin of the global economy?
In my opinion, after each continent has had its turn at the hegemon crown, technical advances will place it on Africa. Africa still has several roadblocks to overcome such as infrastructure, education, socio-political dynamics; however China was but akin to a small fishing village until the 1960s. At first manufacturing moved into China and simultaneously infrastructure improved which encouraged further investment to the extent that eventually, a Made in China label became sign of prosperity and pride. China, akin to the US, now produces several thousand engineers every year. These engineers, I read, are using existing technologies to help China leap ahead in telecommunications, manufacturing, transportation etc. However the cost of living and wages in many of China’s coastal cities, the original manufacturing hubs, has shot up and industries are either moving into rural China or moving to Vietnam and Cambodia. It is this constant hunt for the lowest manufacturing cost base that will eventually lead industries to Africa.
But to become viable for business, Africa has to be overcome its afore-mentioned hurdles. Technology is already bringing about change – Internet costs are dropping and consequently penetration is increasing. Recent socio-political changes in North Africa used social media platforms as a rallying call–Telcos are rolling out 4G or LTE (Long Term Evolution) infrastructure in Western Europe and Africa simultaneously. With plenty of sun, solar panels might be the answer for rural areas plagued by electricity shortages.
But the question remains, which technology advance will make Africa the next Hegemon? I am not an oracle to see beyond the next 3 years – heck, I couldn’t even predict the tablet takeover until 2009. Any thoughts on that?
Manish Punjabi, Marketing Manager (META) at AMD
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