Looking Back: Did Economists Predict Our Technology Addiction?

You can see a number of predictions about our technology addiction in Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone.” Economists and sociologists say that they saw the technological advances coming. Most macro-economists have been happy about the impact that e-commerce has had on society.

People were making predictions about a site like eBay where people from all over the world could have products shipped to them.  The process of trade can become much easier because of sites like Amazon, as well. The world was already making long distance phone calls, why weren’t we able to send significant purchases and get those purchases quickly?  It was just a matter of time. 


The Department of Defense played a large role in the development of web based technology.  You knew that economic analysts were guessing about what kind of impact that it would have on society.  Some people were truly grumpy and pessimistic about the future, not everyone had the foresight to see the bright side. Many of the predictions of the 1970s said that we would have flying cars by now, but the same economists were hopeful that we would reject some of the technology that we use every day.  Very few economists made accurate technological predictions in 1970. 


Economists have largely remained positive about the benefits of tablets and other mobile devices.  The economists hope that people will use the devices to be able to do economic research of their own.  The fact that you can do this kind of research on the go is definitely positive. Companies will not have to make huge investments in order to get most of their employees smartphones in a few years.

People have been making predictions about phones for years.  Some economists thought that cell phones would simply stay the same, large, clumsy size that they were in the 1980s.  The predictions were wrong and they did not see how we would embrace the process of ordering items via our phones. 


Economists like Robert Solow were worried that the computer age would have a negative impact on manufacturing and the overall productivity rates tied to manufacturing.  Solow was right that the computer age would have a huge impact on certain statistics, but the biggest impact may have been on income inequality. Programmable automation is something that Solow felt would take away from America’s overall competitive edge.  People have to realize that economists simply did not know how the world’s largest economies would be able to adapt.  Solow and others were unable to predict the true birth and overall productivity of Silicon Valley and events like the .com boom. 


People adapt to technology.  A number of economists who loved the brick and mortar stores were not going to be able to predict how companies would be able to create online stores.  Harry Dent, who is an economist and an investment strategist saw the technological boom coming in 1989 and he saw a large amount of wealth coming from it.

Businesses have wanted to create a number of telecommuting options like business voice services for decades, this is why so many economists were trying to predict exactly how that would come about.  People can certainly create a lot of wealth by working from home via their phone and cloud computing.  Some people really embrace working from home and other people really enjoy working in an office setting.


A number of economists would potentially say that the process of working from home could lead to more productivity.  The numbers associated with productivity in the 1980s-2000s would show that productivity went down in many cases when people worked at home. OECD data may show that employers may not need their employees to do as much work.  The concept of automation may have limited the number of hours that employees work.