Just read about the Zeitgeist (which means Spirit of the Times in German) Movement and thought I’d write up a brief introduction of the concept.
The first organized city/civilization began some 6,000 years ago in Sumeria, located in modern day Iraq. A good documentary or read explaining the formation and spread of civilization across the planet is Guns, Germs and Steel. It basically explains how this explosion of civilization happened due to the technology and science of combining ox, horses and other domesticatable animals with certain domesticated plants, such as rice or grain, to be able to mass produce food for a large population, giving them free time to do other things, like build cities and rule over other populations for their rulers.
Before this, natives around the world lived simple lives in harmony with nature. One might consider this explosion as letting a drop of bacteria drop into a petri dish. By its very nature it was destined to spread like a virus, overtaking the rest of the world. By the time the Europeans set foot onto North America, after all the Black Plagues and other diseases they had to suffer, not to mention that, at that time, most thought that washing oneself with water was unhygienic, the very diseases they harboured (germs) wiped out some 90% of the population of both continents in that hemisphere. The rest were taken care of by guns (or swords), where railroads (steel) helped facilitate the quick spread of this new civilization technology.
Such a new civilization needed new inventions to help manage it, such as money (easy exchange of labour for goods produced by this society), and property ownership. These two inventions created a stratification of society and the greed and desire to be better off than your neighbour – consumerism was born.
Our Present Situation
We can say that this worked for a while, technological advancements working to make our lives easier. The problem though is that a profit based system is designed to motivate smarter and more aggressive individuals to better themselves ever more than their neighbour, such that some technological advances are buried (those that may benefit humanity but not profit those who have the power to control the) while others are used in a way not to profit humanity (Einstein honestly hoped that nuclear energy would serve society).
While capitalism has served to make things more efficient and advanced technology in general, the problem is that the very nature of such a profit-oriented system is that it creates incentive for those in power to distort the game for their increased benefit. While most humans are satisfied with a simple life, loving their family and helping their neighbours, those who are ambitious and hungry for a position of power will often employ less than ethical means to get there.
So what such an incentive based system inevitably leads to is where we are now: soulless corporations serving the interests of their shareholders – maximizing profits and dividends. To maximize profits in a brutally competitive world it does not makes sense to manufacture a lightbulb that lasts a hundred years (which is certainly possible) but to make things that break down by design and force continued purchases. The purchases employ the factory workers, who are bombarded by the same advertisements and society as a whole is caught up in a massive frenzy of consumption, to keep the wheels of capitalism oiled and moving. The shorter life of goods and advertisements encouraging consumerism lead to excessive waste. The industrialists find great profits in wars, while they have the resources to lobby government officials to pass legislation in their favour.
The Zeitgeist Movement
Eventually though there comes a point where the pressure to cut corners and increase profits by lower costs leads to the use of computers, automation and robotics to replace expensive labour. But replacing labour with robots disemployes humans, such that the more people that are displaced from their employment due to automation and computers, the less people there are earning enough of a living to buy all the goods in the first place. Sure, the services industry managed to absorb a lot of this unemployed labour, but even that industry is now increasingly being automated or computerized, or cannot expand further to absorb the increasing ranks of the unemployed from other sectors.
Basically, it gets to a point where the automation that technology can offer undermines the very foundation of consumerism and the monetary system, because if people are not earning a living doing some work, they do not have the money to buy goods and keep the mad, consumption driven cogs of society rolling. Fewer working people are supporting the rest of society, until the system buckles, as is happening now, and one of two outcomes ensues: 1) the powerful elite impose some sort of super socialist system where the unemployed are slaves to meager handouts and hope to be given enough to keep the mad consumerist machine rolling (or worse, they kickstart WW3 or other means of drastically reducing the population, as many suspect they are planning), or 2) humanity organizes itself to take advantage of technology and build cities from the bottom up that are much more efficient, and work together, as all religions preach, for the greater good and self-sustainability.
This can certainly sound pretty far fetched and a utopian la-la land, but technologies are indeed being stifled in the name of profits and currently exist to make such a system possible. Free energy, vegetable grown in the backyard, products which last a hundred years and are shared and used when needed.