As humans move faster and search for ways to live smarter, the popularity of and desire for on-demand services like Uber, Taskrabbit and Cloudpeeps continue to rise. In effect, work is being "atomized" and broken up into smaller gigs. With this shift in work comes also a more general shift in how society conceptualizes learning, work, transportation and every other human activity.
In a recent chat with, Sebastian Thrun (the founder) and George Zachary (one of the investors ) of online degree platform, Udacity, Jason Calacanis during his Launch 2016 Festival, articulated the idea and the reality of Atomization. In this discussion, he posited the ways he sees this trend affect various industries and systems (in the video above at 27mins 35secs).
Atomization in the social sense, based upon my understanding of Calacanis, is the scaling out of human activities and industrial complexes. The term has existed in the field of chemistry for ages and is used to describe the process of the enthalpy change that accompanies the total separation of all atoms.
Atomization: From Chemical to Industrial to Social
When used in a social sense, atomization is much different and substantive than mere splintering or fracturing. These latter two terms imply a chaotic breaking apart wherein the individual elements involved have, in and of themselves, no real purpose and intended destination.
This absence is due to there being no real agency in these (chemical elements are inanimate and have no agency) inanimate objects.
The nano-degree based structure , like that of Udacity, will give working classes and oppressed communities a cheaper way to learn specific skills or to gain general knowledge bases
Instead, atomization in society involves agency and an intentional scaling out from the status quo. That industries are scaling out from large, clunky and inefficient social clusters is merely a function of human discontent with, perception of, and push back against systems rife with inefficiency.
Examples of atomization would be Uber and Hyperloop's scaling out from systems of transportation, Khan Academy and Udacity's scaling out from systems of education and Cloudpeeps and TaskRabbit's scaling out from systems of human operation.
Very important to this phenomenon is that all of these systems are broken. This brokeness lies in the reality that the agents within these system are systemically unsuccessful in meeting their objectives.
What It All Means for Working and Oppressed
In two subsequent posts, we will focus on the effects of atomization on work, education and transportation.
As pointed out by Steven Kotler, Major Expansions and Contractions of Industries is always painful but necessary
But in general, working class and "politically black" communities should be both enthused and terrified with the reality of this industrial scaling out.
Be terrified by the fact that society overall will be forced to do things different. In this social shift, history shows us that it will be the working classes and systematically oppressed peoples who are forced to cover many of the costs incurred by this shift.
This trauma was very real during the decline of manufacturing in cities like Cleveland in the late 1970s and early 1980s wherein you had steelworkers throwing themselves off buildings because they were losing their jobs and had alternatives in neither sight nor imagination.
However, the working classes and oppressed communities of the world can also be excited by a brave new world which has the great possibility of being better than the previous one. In this disrupted and turbulent ecosystem, there will be ways to race ahead of the complacent; a way to reinvent and to reinvest in oneself.
Disruption, it seems, has a good way of benefiting the underdog. For political privilege is not at all synonymous with "evolutionary" advantage when in a state of chaos.
Medvis Jackson is a web designer at Hindsite, curator at Kulchah and avid cricket fan. You can follow him @medvisjackson for his random thoughts.