Teaching | Writing | Career | Politics | Book Reviews | Information Economy | Economists | Multimedia | Students | Fine Print | Other | My Jobs
Another early draft of a possible column for Fortune
Sign up for Brad Delong's (general) mailing list
I was just reading you're article in the latest edition of FORTUNE. It reminded me a little bit of another article from a few months ago (or maybe more). Similar concepts, but the author talked a little more about measuring the quality of life with 20 or so basic ideas (sorry for such a generic word, but I don't remember what the auther called these "things"). They were things like transportation, communication and so on. Anyway, the idea was that by using these 20 basic concepts you could make a decent comparison throughout time -- rather than measuring the cost of outputs. I recall one of the things that was compared was light. I can't remember what one unit of light was, but the author showed how much cheaper light had become over the years -- from burning whale oil so many centuries ago to the anoying overabundance of "free" street lights we have available to us today. Anyway, something about your Oddysey comment reminded me of the article -- maybe you wrote it...
Sorry for the babble. I don't mean to be filling you're email inbox up with junk from all the readers who decide to respond to your article -- I'm sure even if it's a small percent of readers, a small percent of a lot of people is still probably a relatively large number. The funny thing is that my writing this right now is really quite an interesting demonstration of the value technology has added to our lives. I read you're article on line. At the bottom I notice an email address. Immediately I decide it would be so easy to respond and I do so. In the past that wouldn't have happened. Now take a look at the result. Technology makes it so easy for all these readers to respond that you end up inundated with inane emails of little value. On top of that, I'm doing this all from work, taking away time that could have otherwise been productive (I don't quite believe that one though -- technology may provide more options for workers who want to slack off, but if this option weren't there, I would have found another one...). I'm just saying I think that the value technology adds is sometimes a paradox -- the potential is there, but what do we do with it. I'm also overstating the idea that my response is worthless since it has the potential to spark an idea as you read it (or even as I write it). It could also end up creating another connection in the social network -- something which I think is often undermeasured as a valuable resource.
Anyway, I didn't want to dispute the point of your article. I agree whole heartedly. I did want to make a comment on your example of the encyclopedia though. I'm 24 right now. When I was young, my parents never doled out $1,500 for the latest edition of the encyclopedia britanica -- although I think I had them pretty close to doing it. Inspite of that I always had my own free access to the encyclopedia -- just a mile away at the local library. And that didn't cost $240 a year (obviously the internet access gives people more value than just the ability to look at britanica's website though).
I guess I should also recognize that the encyclopedias at the library weren't exactly free since part of my parents tax dollars went to pay for them, but they were always available. It's also hard to compare the value of the physical version to the internet version. True, the internet version has connections to information outside of the encyclopedia which is very nice, but unless you have a high speed connection and a computer which is always on, it takes longer to get the information off the web than it would to walk over to the bookshelf and look it up (although with the improvements in technology, that may not be true for much longer). Although my parents didn't buy a new set of encyclopedias when I was young, we did have an old set in the house (from the 60's maybe). I was always annoyed that it was a couple decades behind in terms of technology, but I loved reading it. The whole set was in my bedroom and my room was usually set up with it right next to my bed. Every night when I went to sleep, the answers to (not quite) all of my questions were right there next to me. If I had any trouble getting to sleep, I could solve all the problems that were disturbing me by turning the light on and looking them up. I can't imagine getting the same value out of a computer and the internet -- most of that has to do with my love of paper though.
Sorry, I've gone back to blabbering. I just wanted to point out something that you'd probably already known. People seem to forget about libraries. It makes me wonder what will happen to the over the next 10 or 20 years...
Have fun economizing, jeff
Contributed by Jeff Hansen (JKHANSEN@hewitt.com) on June 19, 2000.
Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax
This document: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/TotW/growth.html