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How Science, Technology & Economic Activity Shape Societies

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  • 0:01 Agrarian Societies
  • 1:56 Industrial Revolution
  • 3:06 The Digital Age
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain how science, technology and economic activity have shaped human societies, from the agricultural revolution to the Industrial Revolution to the digital age. A short quiz will follow.

Agrarian Societies

Around 12,000 years ago, human societies started to change. Once living a nomadic life as hunter-gatherers where we were constantly on the move season by season, year by year, humans started to settle down and live in specific locations. This was the development of agrarian societies. An agrarian society is a society where cultivating the land is the primary source of wealth: where the focus is on agriculture and farming.

It's not clear why or how humans came to the decision to become farmers. Perhaps it was through experimentation or humans just wanted more food. But whatever the reason, this was a dramatic shift in the way humans lived. Although we may not think of it as such, this was a time in human history where humans were making great technological advances. Farming technology, while relatively modest at first, began to develop.

Technology and economic activity go hand in hand. As humans gained farming skills, for the first time they were able to produce more food and goods than they needed. And this gave the opportunity for trade with other groups of humans. This economic activity continued to drive better technology, allowing humans to produce even more food and so on. Eventually, it got to the point that some humans could work exclusively on farming, while others could have different jobs, like making buildings or crafts. This idea of having each person with a specific job is called division of labor, and it was a super efficient way for humans to work.

The move to agrarian societies wasn't all good, however. Hunter-gatherers were constantly on the move but that also kept them lean, strong and healthy. They burned all the calories they ate and had lives that contained a lot of leisure time. Farming was often hard and time-consuming, and humans would work themselves to the bone to gain their advantage.

Industrial Revolution

Thousands of years later, as our technological knowledge improved, science began to develop. Through science, we understood the world better than ever and could use that knowledge to our advantage, taking control of the resources available to us.

The Industrial Revolution was the change to mechanical manufacturing processes between approximately 1760 and 1830. It allowed us to use machines to create iron and other metals and introduced the heavy use of steam engines and coal. Division of labor really got into full swing in this part of history as even the factories that produced goods divided their workers into jobs. Each person would do the same task over and over, which was much more efficient. Economic activity was booming, and making food and goods had never been so easy and cheap.

These advances drove the creation of super-powers and empires. The British Empire, for example, was built on it, as were the expansions of French and Spanish territories later. Similar to the development of agrarian societies, the change was a mixed bag. Workers were often exploited and had to deal with terrible conditions. Life expectancy was extremely low during this time, and the rich gained the greatest benefits.

The Digital Age

This trend only continues today in the digital revolution. As computers and communication technology in general, have improved over the course of the late 20th century until today, our ability to produce large amounts of goods and services cheaply improves all the time.

What was the net result of all this science, technology and economic output? There were always plenty of downsides, and there are still downsides to this day. But perhaps the digital revolution has the fewest. Medical technology improved in leaps and bounds over the 20th century, and life expectancy is higher than it's been in all of known human history. There is always a price - the natural world has been exploited in the process, for example. The way we live our lives - with machines to do a lot of our work and many of us working in jobs involving computers and extremely limited movement - has its problems and disadvantages.

But with the good and the bad, it seems likely that science, technology and economic productivity will continue to have huge impacts on the way society develops for years to come.

Lesson Summary

Around 12,000 years ago, human societies started to change from a nomadic life as hunter-gatherers to agrarian societies. An agrarian society is a society where cultivating the land is the primary source of wealth: where the focus is on agriculture and farming.

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