We're living through a unique time in history, when the most important innovations, created by some of the country's smartest thinkers and hackers, are basically free
Recessions breed innovation. That's a smart lesson to draw from the 20th century.
Alexander J. Field called the 1930s "the most technologically progressive decade of the century." It was the decade that invented the television, popularized the washing machine, and accelerated our railroads.
In this Great Recession, some of the most visible innovation has been around smart phones and apps. The first iPhone was released in June 2007, six months before the downturn officially commenced. Since then, the "app economy" has grown into a $20 billion business responsible for more than 450,000 jobs. The recession and slow recovery will be remembered as the time when Twitter went from fringe microblog to publishing powerhouse; when Facebook went from private fascination to public juggernaut; and when Dropbox and Square were born.
But what's distinct about many of these innovations is that, unlike the generation of inventions that came out of the 1930s, they're basically free. Phones cost money, data plans are expensive, and Internet connections aren't cheap. But the software products and smart phones apps that some of this generation's smartest young men and women are dedicated their lives to building cost nothing or next to it. Users might considers that observation obvious. And it is. But it's also really, really weird.