The Web's core value for most users is the free (or nearly
free) and easy distribution of media. Is that a breakthrough on par with the automobile and flushing toilet, or simply a means of controlling costs?REUTERS
As an online journalist, I'm paid to make a living on the Internet by monitoring news, writing my thoughts into an online publishing platform, and sharing the final product with friends and social networks. It was just the other day that I was on my computer tabbing between Twitter and some websites when a friend reminded me, via Gchat, that I ought to read Tyler Cowen's e-book The Great Stagnation for our innovation special report, since it made the argument that we're in something of an innovation rut.
On first blush, that last paragraph doesn't make a lot of sense. What the heck kind of "innovation rut" transforms the way we work and consume entertainment? Practically nothing I do in the course of a day would have been possible 20 years ago. In the early 1990s, you could count the number of newspaper websites on a fork's tines. Neither Gmail nor Twitter nor Facebook existed when I started my senior year of high school. The smart phone that I keep within three feet of me at all time, like some kind of daemon? Its Android ancestor isn't four years old. The Kindle is even younger. That's some rut!
And yet, there really is something wrong with the American Ideas Lab. Meaningful innovations have been falling since the late 19th century, Tyler claims. Patents-per-researcher have declined since the 1950s. Median household income is stagnant since the 1980s. Tyler's friend, and Atlantic contributor, Michael Mandel traces the origins of our innovation shortfall to the late 1990s. There's a disagreement about the date of origin, but the bottom line is that productive innovations that produce gains captured by middle class families have ground to a halt.