Book: “THE DIGITAL ECONOMY”, By Don Tapscott, McGraw Hill, 2014

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A discussion / Book Review,  by

Dr. John Psarouthakis,
Executive Editor,
CV at


Technology is neither good nor evil. It is neither progressive or regressive. It is whatever we—individuals, communities, nations, the global economy—make of it, positive or negative or both. Then internet, for example, has done more than any religion or any language or any empire in world history to put humans in touch with each other. That’s a breathtaking superlative no one can deny. A citizen of a backward dictatorship in some forlorn corner of the world can—given a handheld device and internet access—communicate in real time with, say, expatriate groups in San Francisco or London.

Simultaneously. Hooray for the internet. On the other hand, the internet can disseminate more pornography in one daymthan all the world’s printing presses have disseminated since Gutenberg bought his first barrel of ink.

The parallel trade-offs are endless. Our most advanced airplanes can carry people, or can carry weapons of mass destruction. A new medication can ease human misery, or can be diverted to the narcotics trade. Almost any new technology can be deployed in positive or negative ways. The choices are ours. But rest assured that the internet, modern aviation, and pharmaceutical research cannot and will not go away. Nor should they.

Decades ago I made the transition from government scientist to research-and-development director for a major private industrial corporation. Think about the scope of change that occurred in little more than 100 years, all of it driven by new technology. Our greatest 19th Century public engineering project spanned a vast continent with railroad tracks, allowing homesteaders to ship farm produce and livestock to our cities. Americans rode a horse, or used a horse to pull a carriage. Before the advent of mechanized harvesting equipment, Americans once fielded an eye-popping 22 million working animals. You know what happened in the next wave of technology. We now producefar, far more food per farmer, and per acre, than we did when most Americans were dedicated to producing and processing food. That is undeniable technology-driven progress, but it was accompanied by upheaval and fear and, for many, pain.

Our task early in the 21st Century is to make ourlatest  technological upheaval turn out as well as when farmhands became factory workers. Back then the great American economic engine created a vast middle class.

However, let’s not forget that the world is a better place because of great novelists and poets and painters and musicians and sculptors and actors. We could include great chefs on a short list of specialists who add value to our cultural lives. Even such a basic need as food, after all, can be lifted above the ordinary and into the realm of art. As an admirer of the arts (and occasional patron of the arts), and as someone who enjoys a wonderfully prepared meal, I obviously believe esthetic good things enrich us all. I also believe everyone’s education should include a well-guided tour of the literary, visual, and musical arts. But only a relative handful of citizens can pay the rent by knowing the difference between a sonata and a fugue, or by sharing their opinion of Moby Dick—or, for that matter, by knowing how to play a fugue or write a novel or choose the best fresh ingredients and bring them to table well enough to rent a building and start printing menus. The world doesn’t work that way.

What has changed about that dynamic, and continues to change at an increasing pace, is basically threefold and could be summarized as “it’s more truer than ever.”

First, more and more jobs—not merely those in the “STEM career” path—require a certain level of math and science literacy, and almost any career requires or is at least enhanced by advanced computer literacy.

Second, as countless studies and simple observation reveal, a larger and larger percentage of available jobs will require bachelor’s and advanced degrees in math and science and engineering.

Third, whether you are a Ph.D. doing pure research, or a community college night student making car components by day in a Midwest factory, your job will require appropriate continuing education as surely as do surgeons and psychologists.

Keeping one’s skills in sync with evolving exponentially advancing technology means shooting at not just a moving target but an accelerating target. Profound changes in the workplace will become more profound. The need for parallel changes in how we prepare workers to be employable is obvious.

The experts will need to find answers within a daunting environment that includes new family dynamics, social change, instant and omnipresent social and communications media.

“Exponential change” has been a popular phrase for a generation or two. In the scientific sense of the word, exponential change means change of a magnitude equal to a mathematical exponent, those superscript numbers in an equation. In other words, a particular exponential change would upset the proverbial apple cart to the second or third or fourth or 50th power—or as is also popularly, and without specificity, used in daily conversation, “to the nth degree.” Despite all the common usage of such phrases, and despite my talk about fundamental change, it is important here to note that for the most part I am not talking about is the need for our educational system to deal with “exponential change.” If the exponent were merely modestly large and quick, it would be an impossible task. We haven’t reached that point, at least not yet.

Technology does advance with remarkable speed, sometimes with breathtaking speed, occasionally with stunning speed. We have come to expect that technology will make fundamental changes in world within a single lifetime. But we do not wake up on Monday and find the printing press invented, wake up on Tuesday to discovery of the microprocessor, arise on Wednesday to find the first personal computer being marketed, greet Thursday with our first peek at the internet, and end the week attending a dedication for the first advanced manufacturing plant that does not employ a single human being, not even a security guard. Calculate an exponent spanning each of those morning surprises, if you wish. But console yourself, as an education reform planner, in knowing that a 21st Century education system must move merely very, very fast . . . not impossibly fast.

it is at the college and university levels where the fastest, most direct connection occurs. That is the only connectivity level with which I have had direct experience as a technology manager and entrepreneur. It is the only connectivity level where education can seek to move if not as rapidly as technology moves, then at least rapidly enough to nurture a competitive workforce and continue to produce a domestic “technology supply” that has fast become the world’s most valuable raw material.

In other words, when our colleges and universities offer curricula that turn on a dime to support the changing technological savvy required of world-class manufacturing employees, then, our manufacturers will know their workforce can compete globally for the long term. And if our colleges and universities continue to produce graduates who create world-class technology, either in academic research or in the private sector . . . then our great holistic economic engine, if allowed to run at full speed, will remain unchallenged as the world’s foremost sustainable generator of per-capita prosperity. World-class research and scientific education have been our strong suit for a very long time, and remain ours to sustain or lose. The quick-turnaround “continuing education” of the workforce, top to bottom, is the new, 21st Century imperative.

Pretend for a moment that the greatest influence on contemporary life, technology is a static thing. Technology is the least unchanging thing imaginable, but try to imagine it anyway. Even lacking new ways of designing things, making things, marketing things and using things, one hopes change in the form of “social progress” would occur.   We saw a great deal of that, for example, between the invention of the wheel and the invention of the steam engine. before American women were allowed to vote.

Channeling continuous change toward positive and productive ends is an excellent definition of progress, one that good business managers understand and call “continuous improvement.”

Any institution that seeks to thrive and grow must steer itself across the seas of change rather than try to build a dike and hide, unaffected by such a powerful force. That includes our largest and greatest institutions of learning, which to my observation are doing quite a decent job of continuous improvement.

Don Tapscott’s book of 20 years ago forcasting the digital technological developments and their effects / influence on our economy has provided a guidance on looking ahead wih some degree of certainty. His 20th Anniversary edition of that book will continue to help us move ahead with the confidence that Don’s look in the future is based on his exceptional talent / ability to look to the future.

It has been amazing how Don has influenced the course of moving into the future. I believe we will say the same thing about him and his latest book.

See also Dr. John Psarouthakis’ “The Technology Imperative: What Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Really Means in the 21st Century”,, September 2012.

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