Is the Digital Revolution Sustainable?

Every now and again I can’t help but to slip into thinking about technology, being a technologist. Sitting at LACNOG, listening to the various presentations on the state of the Internet in Latin America. And this leads me to the question –is the digital revolution sustainable?

Why do we believe that jobs where we are paid really good money to do work that can be systemized, written in a manual and/or exported are going to come back ever? The internet has squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems, and the ability to move work around, coordinate activity and digitize data all combine to eliminate a wide swath of the jobs the industrial age created. –Seth’s Blog

The answer Seth supplies is that these physical jobs are being replaced by “unjobs,” a flowing series of things-that-you-do-to-make-money.

When everyone has a laptop and connection to the world, then everyone owns a factory. Instead of coming together physically, we have the ability to come together virtually, to earn attention, to connect labor and resources, to deliver value.

Throughout history, humans have valued intellectual capital over physical capital, so this makes sense. Everyone who can create intellectual capital will be producing higher value output, and hence being paid more. But does this pattern hold?

Economics is based on the concept of scarcity. At one time, books were very scarce, and hence those who had access to intellectual capital was small, and hence they were worth a lot. But what happens to this model when everyone is an artist, everyone is an intellectual?

You might expect the world to shift back to physical capital, or to balance between the two –but that’s not actually what we’re seeing. Instead, what we’re seeing is value being squeezed into the single thing that we can never have more or less of –our attention.

Now books are not published because they are good, or because the author has done a lot of research, or because the author has something valuable to say, but simply because the author is popular. Musicians, artists, authors, bloggers, pastors, politicians –all of these people now talk about their “tribe,” or their “platform.”

“Tribe,” and “platform,” are really nothing more than, “I won the popularity contest.”

Is the digital revolution sustainable? It’s already fallen from a revolution of information to a revolution of popularity. This is a good thing?

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