Monday, 20 September, 2021

4IR and Social Change during Pandemic

Dr. Matiur Rahman and Shishir Reza

4IR and Social Change during Pandemic

Revolution refers to the internal conflict of a country through which the government, the constitution and the social system of a country are radically changed. Poets and philosophers have defined revolution in different ways. It is said that human civilisation started through revolution. Revolutions can be social, political, economic, cultural, etc. The industrial revolution is also a revolution. The revolution in Europe in the mid-eighteenth century as a result of the discovery of mechanical power was considered the Industrial Revolution.

Three great industrial revolutions in the history of human civilisation changed the course of the whole world. The first industrial revolution took place in 1784 with the invention of the steam engine. Electricity was invented in 1870, which accelerated the Second Industrial Revolution and the Third Industrial Revolution in 1969 with the invention of the Internet. The invention of the Internet multiplied the pace of the Industrial Revolution. However, digital revolution of today has surpassed the previous three industrial revolutions which is being considered as the fourth industrial revolution.

Klaus Schwab was the first to define the digital revolution in his book ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’. In this book published in January 2016, he discusses the Fourth Industrial Revolution in detail. Earlier in 2011, a group of German scientists began research on how to introduce automation or digital technology in industrial plants; where it will be easier to produce products very fast with less manpower. From there, the idea of the fourth industrial revolution originated.

It may be mentioned that the discovery of the Internet has led to the rapid development of various types of hardware and software companies. Numerous high-tech corporations and multinational corporations like Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Alibaba, etc. have sprung up around the world centring on the Digital Revolution or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Depending on the technology, agro-processing industries have been set up and state-of-the-art spacecraft for space travel have been built. There is no denying that these organisations are constantly bringing a variety of digital innovations and services to our doorsteps to make our lives easier. We are getting all kinds of hardware and software services at the moment. The whole world is now in our hands. Our daily life is useless without these services. From the upper class to the lower class, we are all covered by digital services. From buying ten-taka talk time on a mobile phone to watching a newly created Hollywood movie on Netflix, ordering food online to buying an expensive brand new car are all contributing to the digital revolution. There is nothing better than to do in this digital age.

Now let's come to the context of disaster capitalism. Naomi Klein, a Canadian author, filmmaker and social activist wrote a book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, in 2007, which explored how neo-liberal economic systems survive in various countries around the world, creating crises and exploiting crises. He showed how Milton Friedman's reactionary theory of a "free-market economy" from Chile to Iraq in 1983 was implemented through "shock therapy."

Neo-liberal political and economic elites and international corporations, using the political-economic-natural disasters (in some cases causing disasters) regardless of the developed and underdeveloped countries of the world, force the states of the world to adopt their reactionary, imposed policies and their own regional politics. The whole way of life, including economy and culture, fell on deaf ears. Klein calls it ‘disaster capitalism’. The main goal is to stop the smooth development of local politics-economy-culture through shock therapy. Thus the doctrine of imposing a reactionary policy imposed by the global political and economic elites is the ‘shock doctrine’.  The whole world is in the grip of the corona virus today. Undoubtedly, this is a big shock for mankind. So far, more than four million people have died and billions of people have been infected with the virus. Millions of people are being infected every day. Thousands of people are now dying. The whole world has stopped. All kinds of socio-political activities are being disrupted. People have isolated themselves to survive this virus. At this time there is no opportunity for face-to-face or any kind of meeting. In addition, people are being kept under house arrest due to the lockdown or shutdown announced by the governments of different countries.

In this situation, technology based communication has become the only way or medium for people. And in this way, the technology companies are taking a lot of money from the pockets of the common people, and becoming the owners of huge sums of money. Semi-skilled, incompetent citizens with weak minds have fallen into the trap created by software-hardware. According to Naomi Klein, it is necessary to understand how the world's political and economic elites can use such unprecedented crises and post-crisis times to their advantage.

From the information published in various reports, we can already know how the assets and profits of multinational technology companies and institutions have increased at an unusual rate during this Corona period. Google, Amazon, Microsoft wealth and profits of technology companies like FOT, Facebook, etc. have increased tremendously which we often find out through newspaper reading and television news.

On the other hand, major economists around the world are constantly researching that from the beginning of the Corona epidemic to December 2019 to July 2021, a large number of people have become poor. Many have lost all their resources. Every day billions of people are passing their day with hunger in their stomachs. They have to spend their time in fear, anxiety, uncertainty and insecurity. On the other hand, billions of dollars has been spent on space travel. We are going through a really strange time. However, before the advent of Corona, wealth was concentrated in the hands of one per cent of the world's population. The extent to which Corona's aggression has widened that gap now needs to be re-examined.

It has been proven that high-tech companies and multinational corporations are the financial beneficiaries of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by using Corona Shock. In this corona crisis, there are those who did not have a single scratch on their face, but their business flourished financially. On the other hand, a large number of people have become destitute. In a country like ours, where most people already live below the poverty line, this is a great crisis for them. Those who have no future savings have to worry more about their condition. It is understood that in such a context, the eternal struggle of the working people is becoming more difficult.

There is still some confidence in government jobs. But there is no doubt that those who work in the informal sector are facing a severe existential crisis. This stagnant state of the economy during the Corona period is definitively transformative for the society and the state.

 Those who implement the causes of social change are called the catalysts for change. Through these catalysts, social change is felt intensely in different countries at different times. The countries in which the first, second and third industrial revolutions took place also brought about great changes in the life of the society. We can learn the history of those changes from the writings of sociologists and historians.

Sociologists have also provided various theories of social change. Based on these theories and a review of the current situation, it can be said without any doubt that the coronavirus that emerged during the Digital Revolution or the Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought about many changes in human nature, culture and way of life. Billions of people around the world have become unemployed. The backs of low-income people are against the wall. On the other hand, the wealth of a class of people has increased abnormally.

History has shown that every time a broken economy scratched the surface of society, every time ordinary people had their backs to the wall, huge changes have taken place in society. And that's how society and people turned around. The coronavirus has made the lives of many people around the world miserable. But one day this situation will end. Then new battles will begin. A human revolution will begin. This is how social change will happen. The new social system will establish humanity, equality, equity and brotherhood. The victory of human revolution is inevitable.

However, it is to be hoped that the Fourth Industrial Revolution has included the control of the Covid-19 epidemic in their sustainable development agenda as a matter of urgency. Coronavirus vaccines have already been discovered through the tireless efforts of scientists. Its mass application has started in different countries of the world. However, so far it has not been possible to ensure the distribution of this vaccine to every state in the world. We are also hearing about the politics of vaccine production and distribution. However, it has now become a popular expectation that every citizen of every country in the world can get this vaccine. Therefore, there should be equal distribution of vaccines.

At the same time, the food and medical care of the poor people of each country must be ensured first and foremost. With the exception of this, the possibility of a social change that has been mentioned cannot be avoided.


The writers are respectively Research Consultant, Human Development Research Centre (HDRC), Dhaka and, Environmental Analyst and Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association