The Internet’s Next Act

In many respects, the ICT revolution has delivered more than it promised – and often in unpredictable ways. And yet most people, though enjoying easy access to technology and low prices, have lost ground, with real wages falling for many years.

BERKELEY – Ten years ago, the world emerged from the dot-com bust and started to look more soberly at the Internet’s potential. While speculative greed and fear of missing out might have overplayed the short-term outlook, the Internet’s immense longer-term prospects were never in doubt. I, and other optimistic economists, assumed that free information and communication would herald an era of rapid productivity growth and improved wellbeing – to a greater or lesser extent – for everyone, regardless of their skills, wealth, or social background. Were we right?

In many respects, the revolution in information and communications technology (ICT) has delivered more than it promised – and often in unpredictable ways. For many, the true marvel of the digital age is its creation of a parallel universe. Anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection can gossip with (or about) virtual friends; witness extraordinary events that may or may not have happened; or play games in a mock world of incomparable complexity.

The Internet has created a dreamscape that is accessible to all and that can inspire us to still greater heights of imagination. Indeed, those who scoff at the value of this should remember that ever since Homer sang around the hearth fire about the wrath of Achilles, dreams have been our greatest source of pleasure and inspiration.

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