Why was the industrial revolution so slow and the digital revolution so fast?

I think this is a fascinating question by Margaret Archer, even if it’s important to stress the ‘digital revolution’ is far from over:

Why was the first industrial revolution so slow (taking, say, 250 years from its first beginnings) and the digital revolution of the last 25 years so fast? Somehow, the question gets lost by calling them both ‘revolutions’. So, after removing these evocative terms, why have historians maintained that the science upon which industrialization was based was available 100 years earlier but its application waited upon self-trained inventors with practical experience (such as Watt, Crompton and Arkwright) to translate it into the technology of the mill and factory? (Jewkes et al. 1969; Singer et al. 1958). Eiffel and Brunel were the exceptions, both being civil engineers intrigued by technical challenges


Part of her answer is that education systems were inhospitable to the technical education necessary to advance industrial change, as it was not a concern for the powerful groups shaping emerging national systems to incorporate applied science. Contrast this to what I suspect is the coding skills bubble (as well as a parallel phenomena with data science) and the broader discourse of digital literacy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.