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History of Digitalisation

Digitalisation is linked to technological progress, the emergence and the development of the industrial society and the political framework according to which the economy and society are shaped. In order to explore what digitalisation is all about today, it is useful to ask how it all began. The terms industry 1.0 to industry 4.0 are used here. What's that supposed to mean?

Industry 1.0 – 3.0

Let's start with industry 1.0 – 3.0. They can be summarised with the headings 'steam engine', 'assembly line work' respectively 'automated mass production' and 'computerisation'.

The invention and introduction of the steam engine and the use of water power provided for the First Industrial Revolution. Starting point was Great Britain of the second half of the 18th century. To the place of manual work or the loom propelled by human strength the machine came. Factories replaced the manufactories. Of crucial significance was the textile industry. The first railways developed, steamboat lines, coal mines and heavy industry arose.

Image: Wikipedia

Industrial manufacturing changed with the discovery and propagation of electricity. It received a new quality. Chemistry, pharmaceutical and electrical industry and mechanical engineering developed. The production of automobiles arose. Work was being further automatized. In particular in the automobile industry worker stood at assembly lines and performed mostly only one activity – as a kind of 'carnal addition' to the machine. A mentor of this management strategy was Frederick W. Taylor (1856-1915). Mass production of such kind increasingly coined the mode of production. A most prominent example for this are the Ford plants, where cars are produced. 'Industry 2.0' can't be dated uniformly for all countries. Generally the transition to high industrialization (Germany, France) is set for the 1870 years. A relation between „second industrial revolution“ and „mass production“ is made rather particularly for Great Britain and the USA. These developments began in the 1920 years.

The industrial society supplied its energy requirements from the utilisation of fossil sources such as coal and later mineral oil. Therefore it is also referred to as 'the fossil age'.

Image: Andreas Stedtler

Finally, 'Industry 3.0' is set for the 1970s until approximately 2010. One calls this phase also 'the digital revolution' or 'the microelectronic revolution'. Basis for this is the invention of the transistor (1947), the microchip and the microprocessor (1971). Production was being further automatized by gradual computerization of operational sequences. Also the innovations in the automobile industry and the concept of the Lean Production introduced in the 1980 years by Japanese car manufacturers illustrate this („holistic production systems “). Also the financial sector was, among other things, promoted by digitization, further developed and sustains a special position in the economic structure. The invention and expansion of the Internet at the beginning of the 1990 years facilitated for the exchange of information in unforeseen extent and for the use of information technologies in economy, politics, administration, culture and environment.

Image: VEB Robotron, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1987-1230-017

Industry 4.0

The word creation Industry 4.0 ties up to Lean Production and continues to develop it. Interlaced systems offer more transparency and thus the possibility of purposeful avoidance of wasting. The main objective of this concept is the optimization of production flows.

Image: researchgate.net

The word creation Industry 4.0 indicates a strong link between economy and politics. The term itself does not stand for a technological invention or 'new wave'. It is more linked to the spread of digital technologies throughout society, changes in production chains and workflows, and exploring new markets.

The term Industry 4.0 has been developed within the context of debates with participants from politics, science and economy about digitisation in production. Which was initially called 'Cyber-Physical Systems' changed to 'Industry 4.0', when the 'Promotion Group of Communication of the Union of Research in Economics and Science' introduced this term in their suggestions of implementation in 2012.1) In 2013, the German trade associations BITKOM, VDMA and ZVEI founded the 'Platform Industry 4.0' in order to implement and develop the 'high-tech strategy 2020' of the German Federal Government. Starting from 2015 the circle was extended by participants from enterprises, trade unions, science and politics. The Credo of the strategy pursued with 'Industry 4.0' reads: „Retaining Germanys future as a location of productivity“.2) Introductory to the aforementioned 'recommendations for action' it reads self-confidently: „Germany is that industry 4.0 country No. 1 in the world. We intend to hold and develop this position during the coming years. Germany spurs the international development within the range of digitization and shapes the dialogue. The platform 'industry 4.0' has a large portion of this success.”3)

Within the politico-economic project 'industry 4.0' mainly technological developments are focused. This triggered debates about the social aspects of this „Large Scale Transformation“4). Among other things the question about the changes for the work of humans in the digital age became focused. To what extent is it valid to adapt to the change? Which new protection standards are to be developed, that would correspond to the new conditions? For this purpose the „Dialogue Process Work 4.0“ was initiated in April 2015 by the Federal Ministry for work and social affairs.

In intercommunion with representatives of different interest groups (trade unions, enterprise, federations etc.), it was intended to thematize 'good work' under conditions of digitalisation and to negotiate leeway for shaping the upcoming conditions, concerning new forms of organization of work („Desk sharing“, „Crowdworking“), flexibilization, work compression and dissolution of boundaries in conflicting aims with the protection of employee rights, stability, time sovereignty, health and social security of the working. Further topic fields are the monitoring of employees and protection of their privacy, aspects of downgrading or deskilling and the loss of options of action as well as the question, whether jobs to large extent would be omitted or replaced by others. For this purpose, at the end of 2016 there was published the „White Paper Work 4.0“. The considerations made therein are not only targeted to working sphere, but include also the consequences of digitization for the entire society.

Digitalisation and Industry 4.0 are therefore not to be regarded in a technological horizon alone. However, central questions in the politico-economic initiatives by federal government and trade associations, concerning a new arrangement of economy, culture, politics and society due to digitalisation, remain unanswered. They represent a challenge also for the socio-political education. For a start it seems wise, to differentiate, very simplified, between different view levels:

  1. the technological change, as it materializes by employment of artificial intelligence, the “power of algorithms”, robotics and 3D printing,
  2. the social change, as it is evoked by use of digital technologies – is it, among other things, by change of work and thus changing requirements of qualifications, is it by a prognosticated high unemployment, by changing lifestyles, communication behaviours and consumption patterns,
  3. the political framing of the change as well as the opportunities and threats for democracy and political participation.

More information: Sophia Bickhardt/Team ECOLIT, Future 4.0 - The Digitalisation of Economy and Society. A Challenge to Labour and Education, 2018.

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Didactic part

Find here inspirations and instructions for exercises to be applied in adult education. They were tested during common workshops. didactic_inspirations_history_of_digitalisation.pdf

Author: Sophia Bickhardt, weltgewandt e.V.

Promotorengruppe Kommunikation der Forschungsunion Wirtschaft - Wissenschaft, Ittermann et al.
Promotorengruppe Kommunikation der Forschungsunion Wirtschaft - Wissenschaft.
Promotorengruppe, S. 3. The example shows: Markets, even so-called new markets, do not emerge due to the simple match of supply and demand as it is emphazised by the neoclassical approach. It results from arrangements and negotiations and are 'produced' by political decisions, networks and information. Markets are socially constructed.
According to the process described by Karl Polanyi in his work „The Great Transformation“ refering to the industrialisation in England in the 18th until the beginning of the 20th century, see Polanyi, 1977.


Daniele, 2020/08/29 11:35
Thank you for this clear overview. Makes understood that digitalisation is a "great transformation".
Georgiana, 2020/09/03 14:08
Digital technology has a significant impact on every spectrum of our lives, as adults. It is no coincidence that we are in the "digital age"; it seems that without digitization our lives could no longer exist. Although the process of digitization began many decades ago, there are still billions of adults who do not understand how they can "coexist" with digitization. Structured information about digitization is welcome, especially for adults in disadvantaged groups. We appreciate the initiative to build this wiki page.
Anonymous, 2020/09/03 19:10
Good short overview and starter!
Brasoveanu Diana, 2020/09/03 20:09
Îmi pare bine că există un interes real pentru identificarea punctelor diverse de vedere ale implementării digitalizării, identificandu-se astfel cadrul legal corect.
Brasoveanu, 2020/09/03 20:11
un cadru legal corect
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contributions/history-of-digitalisation.txt · Last modified: 2020/09/01 12:59 by Sophia Bickhardt

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Please cite as follows: "Empowering Digital Literacy" by DIGILIT project team, CC BY-SA 4.0