Onthe 20th of this month the annual top businessman’s beano, the World Economic Forum at Davos, where all the Great and the Good of the modern world will gather and congratulate themselves and one another on being such successful people. Klaus Schwab, who runs the show, has decided on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” as the theme for this years. I’ve no idea what his Second and Third one is but I’ve little doubt that his Fourth has something to do with the Internet.
In which case — because iconoclasts are also invited — presumably free of charge — Robert Gordon might be here because, for most of his career as an academic economist, he’s been developing the theme that the Internet is far too hyped and will not produce the sort of transformations that, say, the automobile and colour television have done — never mind the smartphone.
Well, I think he’s wrong. It took 70 years before electricity had its main effect — the dispersal of factories away from city-based three or four storey belt-driven monsters into light and airy factory units of all sizes that could be scattered anywhere. As regards the Internet, I think Gordon is partly right. It has probably already had its main result — the plethora of online services — and I don’t see any great surge in economic output because of it, only more efficiency of the present one (and fewer jobs).
But we’re only 30 years on. Now that the equivalent of supercomputers are available to anyone with a smartphone — and mainly by the young — then we are going to see how the young make of the Internet as they contemplate a world in which there will never be enough job, sill less interesting jobs — all protected in various ways by the adults. Young people today, in Third World, Second World or First World countries will start to set their minds on the problem of how to use the Internet to make themselves skilful enough to share the working week of the adults.
Will they succeed? Of course they will. Young people — males less than 30 years o age, and females less than 25 — whose frontal lobes are still growing and have space for more networking have been producing almost all the new ideas ever since we drifted away from hunter-gathering They are not going to be stumped by this problem. The future is a long time.