How has industrialization shaped modern society?

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It can be argued that there were two major technological revolutions which have transformed every aspect of society. The first was the Neolithic revolution, in which the invention of agriculture allowed production of surplus food, urbanization, specialization of labor, and many revolutionary technologies in areas such as transportation (the wheel, roads, ships), tool-making, and housing, and infrastructure such as aqueducts, roads, postal services, educational systems, and complex legal and administrative systems. Industrialization, occurring in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the West, extended and multiplied these innovations and changed them by supplementing the muscle power of humans and animals with extensive machine power. The changes included the following:

  • The industrial revolution allowed far more efficient agriculture, significantly reducing the amount of labor recovered to cultivate food. This meant that a far greater amount of land was cleared for food production, in turn supporting massive increases in population.
  • Population explosion: The world's human population exploded from approximately 100-300 million people at the end of the middle ages to reach approximately one billion by 1800 to over seven billion now. Much of this population has been clustered in massive and ever-growing cities. This gave rise to the phenomenon of urban slums with poor sanitation and rapid spread of epidemic diseases.
  • Technology has improved many aspects of our daily lives, including our life expectancy in the developed world. We have many labor-saving and comfort enhancing objects. Machines have replaced human labor and made our lives safer in many areas. Communication and travel are vastly more efficient, with the world becoming increasingly globalized.
  • Human-caused climate change and environmental degradation have been major negative outcomes of industrialization, with vast areas of land being devastated permanently by toxic waste, farmlands destroyed by overuse of pesticides and fertilizers, fisheries collapsing, species extinctions, and aquifer depletion. The world's oceans are filled with non-degradable plastics and drinking water in most of the world contains traces of everything from chemical to medical waste.

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Industrialization has shaped modern society in a number of ways.  Here are some of the most important of these ways:

  • Urbanization.  When a country industrializes, its population tends to move to cities.  The cities are where the factories are and where the jobs are.  Therefore, people tend to leave the countryside and move to the cities.
  • Reduced importance of agriculture.  Industrialization affects agriculture by introducing machines that reduce the need for human labor.  This means that fewer and fewer people in an industrial society work on farms.
  • A larger middle class.  Industrialization does not just create blue collar jobs.  It also creates jobs for managers, for engineers, for scientists, and for many other people who do not do manual labor.  These people typically become part of a middle class that is much larger than in past times.
  • Greater wealth.  Industrialization typically increases the wealth of a society.  Industry can make higher value products much more quickly than agriculture can or than pre-industrial artisans can.  Modern society is much richer than previous societies.
  • More consumer goods.  Along with greater wealth comes a larger number of consumer goods on which to spend wealth.  Industrialization allows an economy to create more consumer goods for people to buy.

In these ways, industrialization makes modern societies much more urbanized, middle class, wealthy,  and consumeristic than societies were in the past.

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