“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” I was searching for the right words to characterize our present times, when Charles Dickens’ memorable opening sentence from A Tale of Two Cities came to mind. One week I’m writing about our amazing digital revolution, and another I’m discussing the pain many are experiencing in our jobless recovery.
Are we “in the midst of the greatest one-time event in history,” as MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson said in the opening keynote of the recent MIT Second Machine Age conference, or are we going through what he later called the great decoupling, - while GDP and productivity continue to grow, employment and income are declining. “Digital progress makes the economic pie bigger,” he added. “But there is no economic law that everyone, or even most people, will benefit.”
All-in-all, how’s our digital revolution doing? “Technology isn’t working: The digital revolution has yet to fulfil its promise of higher productivity and better jobs,” argues The Economist in a special report on Technology and the World Economy in its October 4th issue.
Its lead article reminds us that, for better and for worse, technological revolutions disrupt economies and societies. Electricity power, the internal combustion engine and other great 19th century innovations ultimately benefited everyone, but for the workers that made them happen, the experience of industrialization was truly harsh: “full of hard toil in crowded, disease-ridden cities.”