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The comedian Mort Sahl used to remark with a straight face that “the future lies ahead.” As obvious as his satirical truism is, it bears repeating that whatever the future holds in store for us, it will be apparent tomorrow. It will not just be Groundhog Day — today all over again. You would not know this, however, from the pessimistic voices that always arise in hard times. Recently, a veritable Greek chorus of pundits has warned that we are facing an age of diminished prospects because the technological revolution of the past three decades has now plateaued. Mired in our current economic crisis, these pessimists have lost faith in “technology’s future and what that might mean for the economy, jobs, debt, taxation, and fairness,” as Mark Mills notes in The American. "We've been here before," Mills reminds us in his article, "The Next Great Growth Cycle":
Back in 1980, America was deep in the mire of the Carter recession with a wounded economy barely limping along. The real estate and the job markets were in a shambles. Boomers faced dim prospects as they poured out of colleges in record numbers. Then as now, the Middle East was in turmoil, and energy entered center stage for the first time as a subject for national debate. And most people thought the big innovations that transformed the world during the preceding three decades were essentially played out.
We all know what happened next: widely distributed desktop computing supplanted centralized mainframes, and the Internet and World Wide Web revolutionized communication, finance, manufacturing, and logistics, enabling the emergence of a truly global economy. As Mills points out, “naysayers, who flourish like mushrooms in the depths of economic recessions, have been wrong in every one of the 19 economic downturns we have experienced since 1912. And they’re wrong again.” Today, Mills says, “We are poised to enter a new era that will come from the convergence of three technological transformations that have already happened: Big Data, the Wireless Wired World, and Computational Manufacturing.” Computing power and storage are thousands of time faster and cheaper than they were 30 years ago. The Cloud has made data ubiquitous. And computational manufacturing is “unleashing as big a change in how we make things as did mass production in an earlier era, and as did the agricultural revolution in how we grew things.” Mills reminds us that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple, now the world’s largest market-cap company, in the depths of the Carter recession. “You can’t predict what company will be the next Apple — though investors try. But you can predict there will be another Apple-like company,” Mills concludes. “And there will emerge an entirely new family of companies — and jobs, and growth — arising from the transformational technology changes already happening.” Read more of "The Next Great Growth Cycle" here.
Robert Asahina has been a newspaper and magazine editor and writer, a book publishing executive and editor, and a data management consultant. He was editor in chief and deputy publisher of Broadway Books, president and publisher of the adult publishing group of Golden Books, and vice president and senior editor of Simon and Schuster; deputy managing editor of The New York Sun and an editor at The New York Times Book Review, Harper's, George, and The Public Interest; and a consultant at Freddie Mac. He is the author of "Just Americans" and of numerous articles and reviews for The Wall Street Journal, Harper's, The New York Times Book Review, and elsewhere.
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