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The Digital Economy

Rethinking Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence

When Don Tapscott wrote The Digital Economy in 1994-95, The Digital Age was in its infancy. The pioneering Netscape Web browser 1.0 was in beta, websites didn’t do transactions, we all used dial-up modems, and smartphones didn’t exist. Google, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter wouldn’t appear for many years.

Yet Tapscott’s analysis – raising issues such as networked business models, the impact of technology on privacy, the inevitable demand for corporate transparency, and the influence of new media on successive generations — deftly captured the many opportunities and challenges that lay in store for society. His pioneering term “digital economy” is now ubiquitous.

Today Tapscott reflects on the last 20 years and takes a Reality Check for the digital age. He explains that while much of the promise has been fulfilled, so have many of the dangers he predicted 2 decades ago. He argues that as with all disruptive platforms and social revolutions, networked intelligence destroys as it creates. Technology is also the foundation of new species of businesses that are capable of wiping out entire industries. Digital Conglomerates such as Google are achieving leadership roles in a dozen industries, where they do a better job with a fraction of the employees. Excess Capacity Networks like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb hold the power to wipe out jobs in industries ranging from taxis to hotels. Data Frackers like Facebook are acquiring vast treasure troves of data that position them to dominate multiple industries.

Some of the issues he addresses:

  • Frictions between present-day Industrial Capitalism and the Digital Economy
  • The radical effects of the Internet on the traditional corporate structure
  • Social media’s dramatic influence on business collaboration and culture