Is there a Fourth Wave? If so what is it?
I leave aside the fact that if you Google “Fourth Wave”, you get largely feminist drivel that’s both sexist and divisive (and borders on abusive) on the first few page listings. These are women with their heads up the north end looking south, trying to “solve” rape, rather than real philosophers.
A much more incisive attempt to define a Fourth Wave comes from Jamie Smart in his book “Clarity”. He calls it the “experience wave”. I like what he’s saying, it’s valuable (not just whining about the others in society) and he’s certainly onto something.
Firstly then, let me remind you of the first three waves, defined for us by Alvin Toffler in his seminal book “The Third Wave”.
First Wave. The Agricultural Revolution or domestication. It started around 8,000 BC and led to stabilized food supplies and effectively the end of nomadic wanderings. The major consequence was cities and civilization. Big one!
The Second Wave. Industrialization or mechanization. Another biggie. It started around 1760 in England and was the mechanization of labor. So this swung away from the agricultural scenario and towards urban life. It led to industrial might and the kind of personal wealth we see today.
The Third Wave. The Information Age or digitization. This started around 1940 with early computerization. As we all know, this revolution is well under way. It’s led to the spread and democritization of personal affluence. But is it peaking? There are signs it is. As more and more people are moving into the knowledge economy, it’s starting to lose its appeal, though it’s difficult to escape its tentacles.
The point is that the knowledge economy has trumped mechanization; and mechanization economy in turn roundly trumped the agricultural economy. So where is there to go from here? What could possibly trump the digital age?
Jamie Smart is pointing to what he calls the “experience economy”. It got underway in the late 19th century, with advances in psychology and the recognition that our minds define our experience of life, not food, not cities, not wealth, not politics… but what we experience.
Since then there has been a huge growth in the personal development industry. “As people become more time-poor, attention-starved and values-focused, the quality of their experience of life becomes more important,” says Smart. I can’t fault that.
He points to the Starbuck’s innovation: slicing 20 minutes out of your day to chill out on a sofa and enjoy a $5 coffee with your name written on the cup! Or the Apple Store, where people buy exquisitely designed, high-utility “lifestyle products”.
Then there is the new tourism: adventure sports, eco-tourism, sacred travel (spiritual hotspots) and extreme tourism (adrenalin rush), which are examples of the fact that people are willing to pay for a special experience.
Of course all these things get hijacked by Big Business, wanting to grab the action and cash in on people’s feelings; beautiful ideas get corrupted, abused and hammered to death. But at core there has been a shift in personal attention and, especially, personal values. Career, wealth and stability in life are no longer givens; but we can all share in friendship, networking, pleasure and the higher life.
There is an “Age Of Experience”, no question. Whether you call it the Fourth Wave is another matter. But the signals of this transition have been arriving faster and faster over the last 40 years. Here’s Smart’s summation of changes:
- The rise of the human potential movement, positive psychology and increasing interest in personal development.
- Identification of the need for “emotional intelligence” in the workplace.
- The desire for authenticity, integrity and transparency in the companies we do business with.
- Increased business focus on identifying and developing the qualities of leadership.
- The decline of many institutions that were previously relied on for a sense of security and belonging (eg. religions, education system, postal service, civil service, large companies, jobs for life etc.).
- People looking elsewhere for security, belonging and purpose, as they pursue “portfolio careers” and move towards greater independence and personal freedom.
Smart gives us something to reflect, which is that the Industrial Revolution gave rise to a massive, sustained increase in the standard of living for large numbers of people. This was a step-change unlike anything in humanity’s history. Has it occurred to you that we could be on the verge of another, similarly profound step-change?
In fact the next wave is already in progress. It’s an extraordinary time to be alive and you can be part of this transformation (yes, no matter your years). Get involved!
Clarity by Jamie Smart, a highly recommended book: get it on Amazon or Smart’s own website: www.claritybook.com