Summary of Age of Discovery by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Age of Discovery by Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live during the Renaissance? It was considered one of the greatest times for new discoveries, inventions and art. It was a time of change that was never before seen. Well, before now that is. You see, you don’t have to imagine what it felt like during that time. We are currently experiencing a dynamic period filled with economic and cultural change. A period of expansion that at times can leave us a bit overwhelmed while we try to catch up. 

This New Renaissance has been facilitated by new technology. The internet and new forms of media have taken the world by storm and we are here to witness it all. The question is, are you paying attention?

In this book summary readers will discover:

  • The Renaissance versus The Modern Renaissance
  • How technology facilitates change
  • The positive outcomes of The New Renaissance
  • The problems with rapid change

Key lesson one: The Renaissance versus The Modern Renaissance

The Renaissance lasted for about a century between 1450 and 1550. The achievements which were made during this time were tremendous. The printing press was invented and artists like Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were coming into their own. 

As much as the word Renaissance refers to something on a global scale and good for everyone, it was very much a European thing. It made European countries feel culturally superior to others and historically was used to justify colonialism around the world. And although the Renaissance period was truly innovative, it was also a time of great disease. European explorers took with them diseases like smallpox which resulted in the practical decimation of some Native American cultures.

The New Renaissance we are experiencing currently is thought to have begun in 1990. It was around this time that the internet also made its entry into the world along with China. As seen with the original Renaissance, everything comes with a price. The most evident consequence of the rapid growth we have experienced has been the impact it has had on our environment. This is but one consequence, more of which will be discussed later. However, as we continue to grow and change at such a rapid pace, we are bound to see even more as years go by.

Key lesson two: How technology facilitates change

Technology has changed the world time and time again. In fact, the Renaissance practically began with the invention of the printing press in 1450. Johann Gutenberg completely changed the way people communicated when he printed the Gutenberg Bible for the first time. Because of his invention of movable type, books could be readily printed and distributed across the nation. It was not just the bible, but many historical and scientific texts were distributed thus ensuring quick and easy transfer of knowledge. Before the printing press, knowledge had to be transferred either by handwritten text or by a conversation between individuals. 

In this day and age, the internet is accomplishing the same feat. Since 1988, the internet was rapidly adopted worldwide and has completely changed the way in which we interact with one another. In fact, the internet was the fastest mass adoption of technology in human history. It has enabled the whole world to stay connected to one another and communicate easily. Take Facebook, for example, the average two users are approximately four degrees of separation apart. Four degrees! Take a moment and think how incredible that truly is. 

Thus technology facilitates change in enabling communication to occur much faster. The spread of knowledge is essential in the times that we live in. However, it can also be extremely overwhelming at times. A balance must be struck somehow.

Key lesson three: The positive outcomes of The New Renaissance

One of the most obvious differences between the times we live in now and eras that have passed is that health and wealth are at levels never seen before. The life expectancy, even in disadvantaged nations has risen by almost twenty years. Modern medicine makes it possible for us to live longer, much longer than our ancestors did. In addition, advancements in technology and better health practices have helped to fight disease. There have been huge improvements in sanitation, pest control, vaccines and drugs. This has all had an impact on improving the health of people worldwide. The spread of knowledge has also helped, empowering people to take control of their health and the safety of their surroundings.

Even though poverty is still a major factor globally, there has been a dramatic improvement in the last 25 years. The number of people living below the poverty line as determined by the World bank was halved between 1990 and 2015. The major reasons for this are improved medical care and linked economies. Worldwide, competition between industries has increased which has resulted in lowering the prices of goods and services. This has been to the advantage of small business and those people who live on a tight budget. 

This is just some of the progress that has been made during the New Renaissance. However, things like scientific and artistic advances are often hard to really quantify in terms of how they are transforming the world. Well, scientific advances may be easier to understand given the impact new technology has on scientific discovery. Just think of our planet for example. Previously, we would have thought that planets like Earth would be extremely rare. However, with new technology and the knowledge we have about space now, it is known that there are billions of planets that are similar to Earth. This means the possibility of life on another planet is actually no longer a possibility but a certainty. 

And even though unquantifiable, we cannot deny how far art has come from the time of Michaelangelo and Da Vinci. There have been changes in the form of art, artists express themselves openly without fear and that is worth being grateful for. 

Key lesson four: The problems with rapid change

As said before, rapid change does come with consequences. The progress of the original Renaissance was definitely not equally distributed. In fact, the gap between the rich and poor increased dramatically during that period. Although exact data from that time is not exactly readily available, the expansion of manufacturing and trade in Europe led to a rise in income inequality. The op 5 to 10 per cent of residents owned almost half of a town’s total wealth. Unfortunately, this difference between rich and poor still exists today. Even though world poverty has decreased, just 62 people have more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent of the human population. This bottom 50 per cent survive on about a few dollars every day. 

The Renaissance period also saw the enslavement of Africans and the decimation of American civilizations like the Incas and the Aztecs due to the spread of disease. Smallpox, syphilis, measles, typhus and cholera were all spread by Europeans during the explorations of the New World. Our modern Renaissance also poses a threat in terms of the spread of disease due to the ease of global travel. However, it’s not only diseases that can spread rapidly. Due to the interconnectivity of the modern world, almost all occurrences have impacts globally. The 2008 financial crisis, for example, began in the U.S ut quickly became a worldwide problem.

The greatest aspect of change, however, is the fear it generates. Not everyone embraces change wholeheartedly and those who doubt can sometimes stir up trouble. For example, Girolamo Savonarola a friar who was against the changes that occurred during the Renaissance provoked his followers to destroy everything that they could find. They collected art, books, sculptures and even musical instruments and burnt them all in what is now known as The Bonfire of the Vanities. After this act, Savonarola’s beliefs spread and he gained political power which called for further moral purification. 

Today, we have to deal with similar issues in the form of the increasing number of hate groups that oppose the changes they see in society. Religious groups take on other religions, homophobic groups attack the LGBTQ community and racist groups are on the rise. They all oppose the change they see in our society becoming more open and considerate to all people who inhabit this Earth. In a sense, interconnectivity has both made us stronger by bringing us all together but has also allowed those who oppose change to also find each other. 

This is a bleak thought but we must understand that the good outweighs the bad. For every breakthrough we make, there will be naysayers. But if history has taught us anything it’s that change always win. 

The key takeaway from Age of Discovery is:

Just like the original Renaissance, the New Renaissance we are a part of now is changing the world. Rapid change always has consequences. History taught us that change brought not only new technology but an increased wealth gap, diseases to the new world and those opposed to change. Similarly, we are experiencing the same consequences now, together with the declining condition of our environment. However, we can only hope that all these changes will lead to a world that is better for our descendants in years to come.

How can I implement the lessons learned in Age of Discovery:

There are two main lessons that can be implemented. The first is, don’t become overwhelmed and stressed by the changes that the modern world provides. Accept that there is change and take it in at your own pace. There is no race, you will not be left behind. The second is that you must accept that although change can sometimes be difficult, you cannot resist it. Oftentimes, it will cause more harm than good.

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