From 1780 until 1850, when life for most workers in the industrial cities and the village coal mines was wretched and often dangerous, the Industrial Revolution (IR) was mainly driven by greedy men. After then — and for the next 130 years or so — the working day become shorter, wages started to allow small surpluses and an increasing range of goods started to appear in the shops so that the IR became mainly driven by the mass of the public, class by class in downward waves, buying mass produced status goods equivalent to the hand-made status goods of royalty and aristocracy.
Since 1980 no new status goods have appeared — the rich and the poor today in the advanced countries enjoying similar products — and I regard the IR has having come to an end — or more correctly, Phase I of it. Most manufacturing has already left the advanced countries but it will return when automation is sufficiently far developed. After all, there are still profits to be made from making objects, and we’ll always need replacement consumer goods as well as new production goods or parts of new infrastructure.
After Phase I (1780 – 1980) and Phase II (1980 – ? ) there’ll undoubtedly be a biologically-based Phase III because it is already known that materials and items made with DNA can be far superior in properties and specifications than those we use today. The manufacture of any items in Phase III will be a great deal slower than we’ve known it hitherto because Phase III will depend on non-intensive energy inputs — solar or geothermal. More leisurely production methods certainly couldn’t happen in the frenzied world of today but maybe in a more distant future the world will have a much smaller population and a more laid-back culture.