In the west, the term digital economy was first coined in 1995 in Don Tapscott’s book The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence. Prior to this, not a whole lot of consideration was given to how the internet might change the way we live and do business. Of course, it is well understood now that the digital economy has helped, and has potential to help still, with things like scientific research, economic growth, improving living standards and providing job opportunities. Currently, it makes up a huge percentage of our collective global economy and continues to grow every day.
However, talk to anyone about the role of technology in the future and the conversation will inevitably turn to automation and fears of job losses. How, they say, can we keep up? Odds are, all of our jobs will be done by machines sometime in the next 30- 50 years, humans will have nothing to do, no way to earn a living. Although not every job can be automated, many can be and it is a valid concern. Increased automation will change things for large numbers of people. It already has.
How is automation changing things?
These days you can go to the almost any large supermarket, do all your shopping, and then scan your groceries through the self-checkout aisle without ever interacting with a human cashier. The job has been automated. Of course, we still have cashiers, just a lot fewer than we did 5- 10 years ago, most have been replaced by machines and the trend is likely to continue. If you look carefully, however, some supermarkets have an employee standing by the self-checkout machines in a supervisory capacity. This is a job which didn’t exist prior to self-checkout scanners, it had to be created. Now, obviously one supervisor job gained doesn’t equate to four cashier jobs lost but the point is that new technology can and will create jobs that we couldn’t have anticipated the need for just 5-10 years ago.
So what kind of jobs will be created in the future? The economy of the future is likely to be vastly different from the economy of today, by this coin we have to imagine that the jobs of the future will be different too. Most likely future jobs will require more focus on creativity and adaptability, as well as digital savvy. As an example of this, over the past few years, there has been a large rise in people adopting the ‘digital nomad’ lifestyle. These are usually self-employed people and entrepreneurs with no fixed office, who generally work from their laptops while traveling the globe. Although this is an idealised way to work and isn’t possible for everyone, it shows that the ways we want to work are changing, and the ways we can work are diversifying thanks to the internet and technology.
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency
The digital economy is also creating the need for new kinds of currency. The inexorable rise of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin has the possibility to turn current financial institutions on their head, with some commentators claiming that bitcoin could do away with banks altogether. This actually doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination, as essentially with bitcoin all transactions are verified peer to peer (by other bitcoin users) and stored forever in the blockchain (a digital transaction ledger available to all bitcoin processing computers), meaning there would no longer be a need for a centralized institution to hold records of transactions or to store physical currency. While this could spell job losses in the financial sector, this digital gold has already led to a new type of job: miners, and no not the pickaxe and shovel kind of miner. In the world of bitcoin, miners are people who set up huge power-hungry computer rigs in order to solve difficult algorithms and be the first to verify transactions which in turn generates a bitcoin reward. The modern digital equivalent of the gold miners and pan-handlers of ages gone by.
So what now?
It is by no means the end of the world of work. The independent UK think tank Centre for Cities is surprisingly positive about the future of work advising that while many jobs will be displaced, there will be an overall increase in jobs by 2030, particularly in work that requires a level of creativity and cognitive ability that computers can’t match, yet. As the saying goes, when one door closes another opens; inevitably new jobs will be created to deal with new problems and new demands as they arise.
In closing, the future is complex and hard to predict, but inviting all the same. It may require us to adapt and to explore new possibilities for ourselves, but after all that is exactly what we are best at as a species. We adapt to new challenges, new ways of living. Adaptation and exploration are two sides of the same coin, the driving forces that allowed us to people the planet, that allowed people to settle and flourish in the harshest of environments. The future is in our hands. As the American novelist Walter Mosley wrote, “All I know about the future is that it is what you make of it”.
Get your copy of What is Bitcoin
This e-book on Amazon explains what Bitcoin is, it explains that Bitcoin (BTC) is a virtual currency, digital, not physical, and independent of banks. Useful links and resources for the newbie and advanced Bitcoiner or cryptocurrency enthusiast.