And my guess is that’s how we should look at digital technology so far. It’s not that the technology itself isn’t important or transformational. It’s that the sectors it’s transformed are, themselves, not that important. We’ve had a productivity boom in the journalism sector, for example, but the 21st-century journalism sector is like the 17th-century book manufacturing sector—it doesn’t matter to the economic big picture.
But if an equivalent transformation had occurred in the much larger health care or education sectors, that would have been a boon to growth and wages. In other words, if future applications of digital technology make it cheaper to get a college degree or a medical diagnosis the way they’ve already made it cheaper to read the news, that means the real wages of every waitress, truck driver, electrician, interior decorator, and architect in America go up. How likely is that to happen? It’s hard to say for sure. Future technology is unpredictable. But having lived through the ongoing transformation of journalism, it looks pretty likely to me. The business of teaching people stuff or informing them about which illnesses cause which symptoms seems to fundamentally have a lot in common with the dissemination of news and news analysis.
Bullish on Technology
revolution has the potential to make new products and services more widely available while opening up whole new areas of employment for millions of people.We’re already beginning to see this in sectors like publishing, journalism and music, but this only scratches the surface. Over at Slate, Matt Yglesias lays out a compelling case that the real impact of the IT revolution has yet to be seen. When the benefits move beyond online publishing and begin affecting industries like health care and education, the real changes will begin: