Technology is now so ingrained into every part of our lives that it is almost impossible to imagine society functioning without it. It is also increasingly hard to determine whether we as a people and our needs are pushing technology forward, or if we are merely being dragged along behind it. The debate about whether it is on the whole a good or a bad thing is one that can continue raging in another place and at another time, but there is one profound effect that it could have on the world that has rarely been mentioned.
Today, you do not need to physically go to a bricks and mortar casino, you can simply play online slots in PA, New York, Florida, Alaska, in fact from anywhere, as long as you have a cell phone and Wi-Fi. Likewise, you can buy that all dancing, all singing 50-inch TV, the latest must have jean jacket or knitted skirt from the comfort of your own home and while you wait for it to be delivered, you can stream the latest movie in a lot less time it takes to chose one worth watching.
All of those have one thing in common. They have replaced the need to go out to buy or experience something and transferred it to an activity you can enjoy at home. Food deliveries are nothing new, but even they have been revamped and brought into the second quarter of the 21st century courtesy of apps and even robot deliveries.
That shift has been discussed long and hard. It, among others, is the reason for either the changing face or decline of Main Street depending on your point of view. There has been another development in our lives however, one that threatens to create a seismic shift that goes to the very heart of our societies. But first we need to go back more than two hundred and fifty years.
Britain was the first country in the world to undergo The Industrial Revolution. Starting in approximately 1760 it fundamentally transformed practically every aspect of the country. In the space of just a couple of generations, life that had run along pretty much the same well-trodden path for centuries, even millennia, would never look the same again. The effects of the Industrial Revolution were many and far reaching, but one of the main ones, and one that looked like it was here for good, was the migration of the population from the countryside to the cities.
The industrialization of agriculture combined with the development of factories – based in the rapidly expanding cities – meant that here was a huge shift in the population. The UK went from a largely agrarian society, with most people living in rural areas on small farms to one where, by the middle of the 19th century, more than half of its populace were living in cities. It was a template that the developed world was to follow.
Now we could very well be on the verge of a reversal to that trend. Of everything that has happened over the last 18 months one of the most far reaching is that suddenly a huge proportion of the population worked from home. Employers and employees alike realized that with the improved technology now at our fingertips, working from home was not only possible, but in many cases, it was actually beneficial for all parties.
Suddenly, the main reason people have for living where they did – namely to be within easy daily reach of their place of work –has been taken away. Almost overnight priorities have changed with respect to what home means. Proximity to the countryside, to the sea, to open space and fresh air is now not just a possibility but a priority. In this light, practically every reason for people to live in large sprawling cities, and indeed for cities to exist at all, are no longer valid.