Positive and Negative Aspects of the First to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

What is meant by the Industrial Revolution? Critically discuss the positive and negative aspects of the first to the fourth industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution is the transition from an agrarian and handicraft based economy to one dominated by machine manufacturing and industrialization. The key factors that led to the Industrial Revolution were the Agrarian Revolution in the 18th century in Britain. Various reasons led to this revolution for example, abundant food supply, early marriage and population growth and less diseases and epidemics, and labor mobility and cheap labor supply as well. Furthermore, the abundant supply of minerals such as iron and coal has facilitated industrial growth. The First Industrial Revolution was a process of change to new manufacturing and production methods in western Europe and the United States sometime in the mid to the late 18th century, estimated to be from the year 1760 to 1840. It first began in Great Britain and then it spread to Europe and America. This transition and shift towards the use of machines from handmade production methods, new chemical manufacturing and iron and steel production and most importantly the increasing use of steam engines, hydro power and development of machine tools gave rise to the mechanized factory system which later expanded into industries. The textiles industry was the first to get hold of modern production methods and thus became the dominant industry of the industrial revolution. Spinning jenny and The Roberts Loom, introduced by Richard Robert in the 1830 was more viable than the hand loom had all contributed to the textile industry’s production. More people began working in the industrial settings. The invention of steam engine by James Watt that improved earlier models completely revolutionized how much work could be done on behalf of humans. After a chaotic 17th century, Britain enjoyed relative stability and prosperity during the 18th century as a result of the industrial revolution and England saw a population boom, Manchester’s population of 20,000 exploded to a populated of 300,00 in the late 19th century. Industrial capitalization gave rise to a new social class system. Mackey (2017) “It created new social classes and vast new fortunes, and instigated a rapid urbanization. It greatly enhanced the speed of transportation and communication.” The bourgeoisie or the aristocratic group who owned banks, factories or transportation networks and large amounts of lands and on the other hand the proletariat or the working class were comprised of the factory workers and others laborers who simply worked for the factory owners; the bourgeoisie class. Therefore economists like Karl Marx argued, ‘One’s class position is determined by one’s “relationship to the means of production” as members of the bourgeoisie own or control the means of production and the proletariat do not.’ However a new class known as the middle class emerged, the rising professional groups such as doctors, lawyers, teachers and other special skills who serviced society as a whole. But under this new class dynamics, the working class was further marginalized.

At a time when people did not know about the steam powered engines and their dangers, industrial accidents happened all the time. Children were often the victims as they worked long hours and deaths were common. For example, a girl named Mary Richards who was not quite 10 years old was caught up a machine and other 6, 7 year olds working alongside her saw the gruesome sight of her bones legs and thighs fall apart. This shows the extent of the industrial oppression of children. Workers lost their arms eyes or fingers or otherwise disfigured. Production and profits always came first in an attempt to avoid financial ruin, therefore working conditions such as sanitation and poor ventilation was neglected. Industries had other repercussions for instance it initially increased the demand for slaves even more. They produced tropical crops such as sugar, tobacco and coffee. Thus the colonial exploitation of both raw materials and slaves were on the rise. On the other hand, women were given lower wages as they were labeled for domestic duties and sometimes did not even receive any as it belonged to their husband in certain areas. Later labor exploitation led to riots and workers unions emerged, leading to changes in government policies like The Factory Act of 1847.

Economists Heilbroner and Milberg described the industrial revolution as “a great turning point in history, during which manufacturing and industrial activity became primary forms of social production”. Mackey (2017) “A later period, between about 1870 and the eve of the First Word War (1914), is often described as the Second Industrial Revolution, and it was marked by the development of electricity, new types of engines, and new chemicals and industrial materials”. In the Second industrial Revolution, oil and steel led to the development of cities, automobiles trucks transits airplanes, wireless telegraphs using radio frequencies, electricity and many more. It was the numerous important economic and technological developments in the late 19th century and early 20th century causes historians to see this period as a second revolution. The First and the Second Industrial Revolutions are not seen as separate events but rather as an expansion of technological progress into new directions. While coal and iron were crucial to early Industrial Revolution, oil and steel became more critical in the later period. This period saw mass production and division of labor thus giving higher efficiency. It played an important role in the globalization as it impacted international businesses. In particular the advances in transportation and telecommunications had a big impact. With increasing trade and communication more and more companies extended their reach. A good example would be Dutch East India Company and the East India Company (British), which initially came in the name of trade however turned into the colonial masters of subcontinent. Therefore on the negative note as mentioned earlier, colonization and exploitation continued. Between 1840 and 1914 a great migration from Europe to the Americas (Both North and South America) and Australia took place because of the High unemployment in Europe as machine replaced manual labor in factories. Some of the great architectural and public sites showcased the development and progress made through the industrial period such as the Kings Cross Station, England, the Royal Botanic Garden in London and many more bridges and buildings and terminals like the Grand Central Terminal of New York. The Eiffel tower is also one of the most iconic monuments of the Industrial Revolution, which was completely made of iron. The Eiffel tower was completed in 1889.

The increased migration of people from villages to the cities due to urbanization caused British cities to become crowded. Mackey (2017) Cities were unable to handle the rapid influx of people and lack of public provision for sewage and sanitation meant city streets were filled with stench of human and animal waste. Thousands died in the cholera outbreaks from contaminated waters. It was not only the urban environments that were affected; the industrial revolution has made massive alterations to our land, air and water. Huge amounts of iron ore and coal was extracted during this period. Extraction processes like coal mining or any mining of resources or oil drilling causes tremendous impact on both land and water. Therefore the areas of earth that were blessed with valuable resources such as coal, iron, gold, copper and other materials have suffered severe and long-lasting environmental damage. Then again, the burning of huge quantities of coal in factories mills locomotives led to air pollution. Mackey (2017) Industrial cities were often thick with coal smoke; the famous “London fog” of legend was a product not just of weather, but of smokestacks and chimneys that filled the city’s skyline.

The industrialization played a major role in the World War I. It allowed new machinery to be produced and at a much faster rate than ever before. Many new weapons were developed that increased the deadliness of the war. Some of these weapons include machine guns, chlorine gas flame throwers zeppelins planes. Pistols rifles and grenades were improved to perform better. Then the use of motorized vehicles and light tanks were a major breakthrough. Mass production was arguably the deadliest weapon of the war as weapons could be manufactured faster than ever before. Moreover vehicles such as cars, tanks and planes could be made due to the technology and, which also mass-produced. Later, World War II was far worse and also saw some breakthroughs in engineering with better bombs planes and tanks and all sorts of weapons and artillery and worst of all the creation of the Atomic Bomb and their use in the two Japanese cities. Therefore the first two industrial revolutions were a blessing and a curse for mankind. In my opinion the blessing outweigh the curse as Europeans have evolved and rebuilt Europe from the ashes of the two world wars and are still the richest continent. The profits of industrialization caused Europe and the United States to become the wealthiest societies at that point in history compared to the other non-industrialized parts of the world in Asia Africa and the Latin Americas. Therefore it led to a sort of reordering of the global economic system and allowing western dominance.

The Third Industrial Revolution also known as the Digital Revolution, it bought semiconductors, mainframe computing, personal computing and the internet. The things that were analog started to moved towards digital technologies. This move from analog to digital technology dramatically disrupted industries, especially global communications and energy. It saw the availability of electronic devices and the emergence of the IT system. For example, the use of robotics if you visit a car manufacturing plant is a common sight of mechanical arms fitting and screwing car parts. Moreover the invention polaroid cameras, electric blender, electric cooker, television, portable dishwasher vacuum cleaners and many more household items made life easier. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is ongoing, technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, 3D printing and the increased automation of traditional industrial practices using modern technology. The IoT (internet of things) are now being integrated with machine-to-machine communication for improved communication and self-monitoring. The best examples would be the autopilots being used in Electric cars in China and Tesla in the United States. The car can drive itself in the highway while the owner may sleep or do something else. Then the smartphones and smart devices we are using in our daily lives are also a part of this industrial revolution. Sophisticated devices used for medical purposes too are a result of innovation and technological progress in today’s world.

However, the implications of machine learning and artificial intelligence is also being used in jet fighters, war drones and some other forms of robotic and unmanned war machines made till today and more research are being done. All these new inventions do not come flawless; there are some downsides as well. There is evermore risk of hacking as things are becoming more and more connected to the internet. Therefore the issue of cybersecurity is of high concern, starting with an individual’s personal data on their computers to the sophisticated and advanced military data can be stolen by hackers as these incidents have made news in the past. Moreover bank robberies do not take place physically anymore but through cyber-attacks. The largest cyber-attack on a bank was our very own central bank, the Bangladesh bank cyber heist in 2016. So there are many loopholes that allow experts to bypass these securities. There are future concerns over hacking at military missile sites as well. Then we have seen the use of drones for cinematic purposes in order to capture beautiful aerial shots in films, to the use of drones as a form of military hardware. In recent history as we have seen, the successful use of drones in battle grounds in Libya and the Nagorno-Karabakh. Therefore a question arises on how we utilize these technological progresses made by humans through history. Furthermore implication of technology in military industries such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many more may lead to global catastrophe, because today’s world has enough nuclear stockpiles to destroy the planet if ever used.

izzah ahmed

This is Izzah, a content writer and editor who creates SEO-friendly content and has experience in academic writing. Backed by 10 years of experience in writing and editing, she is equipped with the skill to create content that is backed by thorough research and has impeccable structure.

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