The phenomena supporting the rise of technocapitalism are of two basic types. One typology includes macro phenomena related to long-term accumulation. A second typology includes micro phenomena involving processes of diffusion and generation at the level of organizations and individuals.
The macro phenomena are found at the societal level, they are collective and structural, and are best understood from a long-term perspective. These phenomena are largely out of the control of any single institution, organization or group of individuals. Together, they form a macro platform from which technocapitalism is emerging.
The rapid accumulation of inventions has been a major macro phenomenon supporting technocapitalism. The number of inventions patented during the second half of the twentieth century increased to levels never seen before in human history. This unprecedented surge of inventive creativity has been a major cause of the rise of technocapitalism.
The higher the number of patented inventions, the larger the stock of patents that can potentially be used for some economic or social purpose. Intellectual property of new ideas and discoveries became more valuable than ever during the second half of the twentieth century. This phenomenon provided a substantial increase in the societal innovative capacity that resulted in the technological advancement of many fields (for insights on innovative capacity and its effects, please visit www.innovativecapacity.com).
Second, the rapid massification of education during the second half of the twentieth century, and particularly technological education, was another macro phenomenon supporting the rise of technocapitalism. After the mid-1940s, access to higher education came to be regarded as a right in many nations. Enrollment in higher education in science and technology fields expanded as never before. Now, a new frontier of massification---the spread of Internet-based distance learning programs---is taking this massification process farther than anyone could imagine barely two decades ago.
The third macro phenomenon supporting technocapitalism is the unprecedented accumulation of infrastructure, both physical and intangible, during the second half of the twentieth century. The construction of physical infrastructure involving educational facilities, laboratories and communications, for example, reached unprecedented levels, supporting the massification process noted above. Similarly, the development of intangible infrastructure, such as the formation of communities and local networks supportive of inventors and their lifestyles, became more obvious than ever.
The importance of infrastructure is often ignored or taken for granted in most accounts of technological change. However, its support of invention and innovation is a fundamental one. Without the appropriate infrastructure, none of the macro or micro phenomena supporting the emergence of technocapitalism could operate effectively.
A fourth macro phenomenon is a new geography of invention and innovation, involving radical changes from previous times. The second half of the twentieth century saw in the United States a process whereby previously peripheral or undeveloped areas became the most important sources of invention and innovation. At the same time, the prior predominant national sources of invention declined and were overshadowed by the new areas. Areas in Sunbelt states, such as Silicon Valley, Southern California, Eastern Texas, North Carolina and Northern Virginia, among others, became the most important national sources of invention and innovation. In the short span of four decades they displaced the previously predominant areas of Eastern New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Illinois.
This radical process of regional inversion was in part a product of the rapid accumulation of inventions, infrastructure, and the massification of education noted earlier. Internal population migration toward Sunbelt states, along with the immigration of highly skilled groups, helped this process. Military research and related activities in some Sunbelt states also contributed. The massive shift in the geographical sourcing of invention and innovation resulting from this process has not been replicated so far by any other nation in the world. It therefore remains an American phenomenon. Perhaps in coming decades we might witness a similar process of regional inversion in other nations (for insights on related aspects of regional inversion, please visit www.regionalinversion.com).
The micro phenomena involve processes of diffusion and generation of knowledge that can lead to invention and innovation. They occur largely at the level of organizations and individuals. Together, they constitute the micro-level platform that supports the emergence of technocapitalism.
The rapid diffusion of knowledge experienced during the second half of the twentieth century is a major phenomenon supporting technocapitalism. Knowledge became easier to diffuse and acquire than ever before, thanks largely to the massification of education discussed earlier. The diffusion of technological knowledge, confined mostly to elites in previous times, thus became a mass activity.
Despite its massive scope, the diffusion of knowledge remains largely a function of organizations and individuals. Knowledge, unlike information, usually requires much effort, persistence, long periods of time to be acquired, and it confers in many cases a lasting advantage. The second half of the twentieth century, moreover, saw new inventions being put to work, such as computers and the Internet, which made it easier and faster than ever for organizations and individuals to diffuse new knowledge.
Second, the corporatization of invention and the rising importance attached to corporate R&D (research and development) became another micro phenomenon supporting the rise of technocapitalism. The rate of individual invention stagnated during the second half of the twentieth century, but corporate invention surged to levels never seen before in history. Thus, the rapid accumulation of inventions of the second half of the twentieth century was largely a corporate phenomenon.
The innovative capacity of organizations increased to unprecedented levels during the last decades of the twentieth century, due to the rising importance of R&D. This development is, in part, behind the emergence of a new organizational form, the experimentalist firm, that is a distinctive feature of technocapitalism. Experimentalist organizations are overwhelmingly focused on research, and depend mostly on their discoveries for survival. In this respect, therefore, they implement what may be referred to as “systematized research regimes”, which are oriented toward generating streams of new inventions and innovations. The experimentalist organization is, by and large, a product of the rising importance of corporate R&D. A major concern regarding these organizations is the increasing consolidation of firms through mergers and acquisitions,
that lead to the formation of oligopolies with substantial market power over their respective sectors.
The third micro phenomenon supporting the rise of technocapitalism is the spread of continuous (or systematized) invention and innovation. This phenomenon has become most obvious in the new sectors that are representative of technocapitalism, such as biotechnology, software, synthetic bioengineering, nanotechnology and bioinformatics. This is in part a result of the corporatization of invention and the rising importance of R&D. Although most continuous innovation has occurred in corporate R&D units, the basic features of this phenomenon now seem to be spilling over into other corporate activities, including services. Thus, generating a continuous stream of novelty is becoming an important objective for some of the most common activities of our time.
Fourth, the rapid reproduction of creativity is another micro-level feature supporting technocapitalism. Technological creativity is not a constant attribute. It must be inspired, replenished and sustained in individuals and organizations searching for new discoveries. This unremitting renewal can be called reproduction, and it is not too different from the similarly named process that takes place in nature.
This most difficult of human endeavors now occurs mostly in organizations. In the organizations typical of technocapitalism---the experimentalist organizations---practices to improve and sustain the reproduction of creativity are a vital necessity. This imperative has led to new forms of organizing and managing activities, which are quite different from those used in the organizations that were typical of industrial capitalism. Reproducing creativity is one of the most important objectives of those organizations, and it is one that increasingly depends on external societal factors and stimuli. In this respect, reproducing creativity has become more of a societal endeavor, which must be nurtured through external social mediation and influences.
The rising importance of networks is the fifth micro phenomenon supporting the rise of technocapitalism. Networks are vital for reproducing creativity and continuous invention, and also for diffusing new knowledge. A major factor here is that most organizations cannot hope to possess internally all the expertise and other resources needed to reproduce creativity, and sustain continuous invention.
The expertise needed to reproduce creativity and sustain continuous invention has become more complex and multidisciplinary than ever, and the accompanying hardware more costly. Therefore, organizations must reach out to find external resources through networks. The rising importance of alliances, joint ventures and outsourcing arrangements in many activities is an effect of this phenomenon. Even in the case of oligopolies, such alliances and outsourcing are important, as it is impossible for a single organization to possess all the resources needed to undertake research or reproduce creativity.
Networks and the Internet are also introducing changes in the way invention and innovation are undertaken. While initially they appeared to dilute the power of established organizations in conventional sectors, networks and the Internet have also provided the means for oligopolies to form and exercise greater market control. New, innovative firms with discoveries are increasingly being taken over by oligopolistic corporations, as consolidation in some of the new sectors associated with technocapitalism advances. As a result, more inventions and innovations are coming under the control of large corporations with substantial market power.
Some of the phenomena supporting technocapitalism, or their effects, will be discussed in greater detail in other sections of this website.
For publications on these phenomena and related topics by this author, please see the Publications section of
Copyright © Luis Suarez-Villa