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I can't think of the word and it's driving me nuts. I'm looking for a word that can be used when some technology is discovered, way of thinking, or even event happening that causes a big change in society.

Examples might be: discovery of electricity, industrial revolution, nuclear power / bomb, the internet.

Some similar terms I can think of are: dawn of a new era, a new age, or paradigm shift.

EDIT: I just want to add that I'm thinking of a lesser used word, although revolutionary fits it's not specific enough nor the word that I'm looking for.

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The word enlightenment (with a lowercase e) or advancement might be a possibility. –  JLG Sep 23 '12 at 18:48
    
Some good answers below. None are what I'm thinking of, but will choose one as an answer in 24 hours if nothing else comes in. –  skrewler Sep 24 '12 at 0:00
    
I just gotta kvetch a bit here. Of course none of the answers are what you are thinking of! You say yourself, you can't think of the word. –  Bobbi Bennett Sep 24 '12 at 2:41
    
Bobbi, you're absolutely right. I ultimately chose jwpat7's answer, even though disruptive innovation came close. The ideas below have given me -a lot- to work with though. Thanks everyone. –  skrewler Sep 24 '12 at 7:42
    
skrewler, these word hunts are fun, and productive! Just look at all the good ideas the question stimulates. –  Bobbi Bennett Sep 27 '12 at 2:27

10 Answers 10

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Besides revolutionary (“something that portends of great change”), which it seems de rigueur to mention, consider terms like:
• scientific/social/cultural upheaval (“a sudden violent upset, disruption or convulsion”),
groundbreaking (“Innovative; new, different; doing something that has never been done before”),
radical (“Thoroughgoing”),
breakthrough (“Any major progress; such as a great innovation or discovery that overcomes a significant obstacle”),
• the hyperbolic world-shaking (“Momentous; of great import; of great significance, importance or consequence”) or world-shattering,
• and the clichéd quantum leap (“discontinuous change of state” or “(metaphorical) An abrupt change”).

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Pivotal.

All the energy of the change comes to bear on one pivotal point, the tipping point, past which the accumulated effort of generations can be seen to have an irrevocable effect.

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The simplest word I'd use in this situation is revolutionary (you want the second sense, meaning "radically new or innovative").

To best address your examples, I would say disruptive. In those cases, the word is used to specify a disruptive innovation as opposed to a sustaining (or incremental) innovation.

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A metaphorical phrase that has enjoyed much use (perhaps oversuse) recently, is sea change

a profound or notable transformation: recent years have witnessed a sea change in the fortunes of car safety as a marketable quantity

A much more modest approach, which might persuade through understatement is reset, as in cultural (or technological) reset.

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You might find that watershed is a gentler version of what you're looking for:

A critical point marking a change in course or development.

I've also heard "watershed moment" used to mean a "turning point."

Come to think of it, turning point might be what you're looking for:

A decisive point at which a significant change or historical event occurs, or at which a decision must be made.

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Revolutionary

Definition of what you're looking for:

a : a sudden, radical, or complete change

b : a fundamental change in political organization; especially : the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed

c : activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation

d : a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm

e : a changeover in use or preference especially in technology

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The OP has mentioned revolution in the title. –  coleopterist Sep 23 '12 at 18:31

Zieitgeist might be the word you're looking for; it means the general beliefs, ideas, and spirit of a time and place (the "Roaring 20's", etc.)

The Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or spirit of the time) is the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time.

As an example, the Zeitgeist of modernism defined and influenced architecture, art, and fashion during much of the 20th century.

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Welcome to ELU. I edited your answer; on this site, citing authoritative resources and offering some commentary adds value to an answer. Please have a look at the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. (Oh, and if you don't approve of the edit, you can always roll it back.) :-) –  medica yesterday

Black Swan event/theory? The theory of events that are entirely unprecedented and random, which observers then try to rationalise from their own viewpoint based on hindsight.

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The beginning of a new era in a certain field of technology.

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How about catalyst? In its non-chemical definition, it means "a person or thing that precipitates an event." Eg, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the catalyst for World War I.

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