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.