Let me remind you of the first three waves, defined for us by Alvin Toffler in his seminal book The Third Wave...
The point is that the knowledge economy has trumped mechanization; and mechanization economy in turn roundly trumped the agricultural economy. So where is there to go from here? What could possibly trump the digital age?
Jamie Smart in his book Clarity points to what he calls the "experience economy." It got underway in the late 19th century, with advances in psychology and the recognition that our minds define our experience of life, not food, not cities, not wealth, not politics... but what we experience.
Since then there has been a huge growth in the personal development industry. "As people become more time-poor, attention-starved and values-focused, the quality of their experience of life becomes more important," says Smart. I can't fault that.
He points to the Starbuck's innovation: slicing 20 minutes out of your day to chill out on a sofa and enjoy a $5 coffee with your name written on the cup! Or the Apple Store, where people buy exquisitely designed, high-utility "lifestyle products."
Then there is the new tourism: adventure sports, eco-tourism, sacred travel (spiritual hotspots) and extreme tourism (adrenalin rush), which are examples of the fact that people are willing to pay for a special experience.
Of course all these things get hijacked by Big Business, wanting to grab the action and cash in on people's feelings; beautiful ideas get corrupted, abused and hammered to death. But at core there has been a shift in personal attention and, especially, personal values. Career, wealth and stability in life are no longer givens; but we can all share in friendship, networking, pleasure and the higher life.
There is an "Age Of Experience," no question. Whether you call it the Fourth Wave is another matter. But the signals of this transition have been arriving faster and faster over the last 40 years. Here's Jamie Smart's summation of changes:
Smart gives us something to reflect, which is that the Industrial Revolution gave rise to a massive, sustained increase in the standard of living for large numbers of people. This was a step-change unlike anything in humanity's history. Has it occurred to you that we could be on the verge of another, similarly profound step-change?
In fact the next wave is already in progress. It's an extraordinary time to be alive and you can be part of this transformation (yes, no matter your years). Get involved!