Civilian technology, Joel Mokyr notes, has also gone “small” — nanotechnology, genetic engineering, custom-engineered materials, “mass customization” through 3-D printing. If the Rouge plant looming over Dearborn was the iconic symbol of the industrial age, the iconic symbol of our information age is the smartphone in your pocket.
“Large” technology requires the standardization of masses of people, centralized command-and-control, conformity to social norms. Massive work forces and massive armies cannot operate optimally otherwise.
“Small” technology enables individuals to make personal choices, fashion their world to their own dimensions, deploy their own talents and pursue their interests in ways of their own choosing. Standardization yields to customization.
President Obama doesn’t seem to get this. He sees history as a story of progress from minimal government to ever-larger government. He’s only sorry that he hasn’t taken us farther on that track.
But history doesn’t proceed in a straight line; it moves around. “Large” technology made big government seem necessary in 1914. “Small” technology requires something different, something more adaptive today.
Indeed. You could almost write a book about that.