Wednesday, May 1, 2013

You Have to Create Value Before You Can Share (or Measure) It

Electronics technology, whether in the form of consumer products or business solutions, has changed our world over the past decade. That is indisputable. What is up for debate is how much value society truly realizes from it.

Eduardo Porter, who writes for the Economic Scene column of the New York Times, published an article yesterday (April 30, 2013) titled "Measuring the Benefits of Tech Tools". From his perspective, the dollar value of technology's contributions to society has been severely underestimated by economists and others who attempt to quantify it due, in large part, to the fact that they "miss much of what technology does for people's well-being". I disagree with Porter's view.

One "benefit" Porter cites is the ability of companies, like the one he works for, to maintain production standards with fewer employees. While, on paper, this looks like a benefit in terms of increased productivity per dollar spent, is it really good for society to have ever-rising unemployment as fewer and fewer jobs are available to humans?
Who's calculating the number of jobs lost to the outsourcing of jobs to technology? Another of Porter's arguments focuses on the non-tangible benefits we all gain from technology. He states, "G.D.P. misses what Americans gain from sharing information on Facebook...". Really? Every day at work and evening in my classes, at least half of the people I see who are being paid a salary or are paying for the right to attend a lecture are using Facebook. How does this benefit our society? It isn't increasing productivity in my workplace and it's not helping the reputation of Carnegie Mellon University to have its students miss a good portion of the ideas being presented in a class session.

If you're reading this post, there's a good chance you are a Heinz College graduate student. Do you regularly use Facebook during class? Would you get more out of class if you didn't?

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