Guns, Germs and Steel…Digital Divide and Self-learning Skills

Guns, Germs and Steel… what next?

According to Prof Jared Diamond, author of the book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, roots of inequality amongst human societies lie not in superiority of one gene pool over another, instead guns, germs and steel determine inequality.

Natural geographical advantages made agriculture possible in some areas of earth like in the fertile-crescent of the Middle East (Sumerian civilization). Instead of a nomadic way of life of hunting and gathering for food, humans here settled down.

Regions where grains like wheat and rice could grow had an advantage over regions where only perishable crops could grow because grains required less maintenance and they could be stored for long period of time. Less people were thus required for meeting the nourishment needs of a society.

People who did not have to farm had time to tinker and gradually specialized in other activities like domesticating animals and tool making. Domestication of animals enabled these societies to substitute and hugely augment human muscle power. Constant tinkering with stone tools led to the discovery of metal tools and specialization in metals combined with gunpowder later led to lethal rifles and still later automatic machine guns.

Societies that had an initial natural advantage because of agriculture gradually gained an immense advantage over societies that still remained primarily hunter-gatherers.

These powerful societies were mostly European and this was because they had another geographical advantage. They were spread East to West and hence were on the same latitude, which meant they had the same climatic conditions. Thus, knowledge from Sumer got easily transmitted to North Africa and Europe.

In comparison the Americas were spread North to South, which meant that the latitudes and hence climatic conditions were very different. Hence, for example even though Aztecs had some form of script but it never got shared with neighbouring Mayan and Inca civilizations. While knowledge from the Sumerian civilization, example their Cuneiform script, got transmitted and probably this inspired Egyptians to create an improved version – the Hieroglyphics.

Germs are another factor that lead to inequality. Agricultural societies that domesticated animals and lived in close proximity with such animals encountered diseases transmitted from animals to humans. Over hundreds of years they developed immunity, but when they came in contact or attacked other societies they introduced their ways of living into these societies that hadn’t domesticated animals and could not cope with the germs. Germs and guns decimated these other societies’ population.

This happened, for example, when European societies discovered Americas. First guns and later germs decimated the Aztec, Mayan and Inca civilizations.

Today’s Context

What will lead to inequality today, in the 21st century?

One major factor is perhaps ‘Digital Divide’. In the sense that today, societies that don’t have easy, cheap and instant access to the plethora of information and knowledge available, will be at a great disadvantage tomorrow.

Guns, Germs and Steel – Equivalents for an Individual

Just like guns, germs and steel have been the reasons for inequality between societies, can we try and find out what leads to inequality between individuals in the same or similar societies, so that we can then provide insights that can help an individual improve his or her chances of success?

Outside-in or Inside-Out

In an interview with Elliott Masie, Malcolm Gladwell, author of books like Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, says that his larger premise in his writings is that ‘people are not built from the inside-out but from outside-in’, which is to say that an individual is the product of the environment and culture they live in and success depends on opportunity that is given to them by the world that they live in.

But can you Influence Your Life – Inside-out?

Taking cue from the earlier observation that digital divide is probably the determining factor that will lead to inequality amongst societies tomorrow, can we say that individuals, even in such a society, if they can cross the digital chasm and avail of the information and knowledge available today, they can significantly improve their chances of growth? This could be done, for example, by using the mobile phone, fast becoming ubiquitous, as a device for connecting to the web to access information and knowledge.

On the other hand, even if an individual is in a ‘digital-haves’ society but personally lacks the skills to make use of digital technologies to enhance own knowledge and understanding, chances are that such an individual will not thrive.

In the 21st century, not being able to adapt to fast pace of change and not being able to reinvent yourself as knowledge in your area of expertise explodes are two important factors that will impede your chances of success.

For people in the ‘digital have-nots’ society what is needed is to bridge this chasm, but at an individual level even if you are in the digital-haves society you need to acquire skills to ensure that you quickly access, learn, understand and then apply knowledge.

You need to understand the Art of Self-Directed Learning!

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