Oct 17, 2008

The ideas only economy

is a long way off says Tom Davenport

 Did you wonder whether our economy had grown a little overly precious? How can we really be producing value if we're all sitting around blogging and Facebook-friending each other?
1999 the British think-tanker Charles Leadbeater published the book Living on Thin Air. It was both an appealing notion and a scary one: that we no longer have to produce anything but ideas. I am not suggesting that we will be returning to the Dark Ages, or that there isn't some value in Web 2.0. We'll still have friends, and it will still make sense to write on their walls on occasion. Networks are important, and they contribute to economic life as well as social life. Even over-employed workers will still produce some user-generated content. But it seems to me that many of the activities, business models, and assumptions behind social media are a bit fluffy, and that fluffiness is going to be difficult to maintain in the post-bubble environment we now find ourselves in.
Instead of finding more ways for us to all yap at each other, in this more sober economy we may want to emphasize other priorities. What new products and services will make for better, healthier lives and relationships? How can companies improve their performance? How can teenagers improve their math and science skills, instead of their texting skills?
The generation that went through the Great Depression seemed to be imprinted with a permanent desire to work hard, save money, and live in an economically conservative fashion. Of course, I'm not arguing for that. But it wouldn't be a bad outcome if the current crisis led to a more diligent, industrious economic climate. Chatting and socializing are important things, but they're not the only things.