Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Follow-Up

FLG was thinking some more about this post and what Neal Stephenson had to say.

In it, you may remember, he says that if you took somebody off the street from 1900 and plopped them down in 1968 that person would be astonished by the changes, .i.e airplanes, rockets to the moon, nuclear power, etc, etc. If, however, you took somebody from 1968 and plopped them down in 2012, they'd see things they were very familiar with. Sure, cars have changed, but they're still cars. Jet airplanes look more or less the same. And then he says, dismissively, about how that person would go back to 1968 and say everybody has devices that are a cross between Capt. Kirk's communicator and Dick Tracy's wristwatch. How typewriters have been replaced by computers and hooked up to this Internet thing.

Anyway, FLG was thinking about this the other day. All things considered, smart phones and the Internet have had and will have a far larger impact on human beings than the moon shot. The power to communicate with people anywhere, anytime certainly comes with annoyance, but FLG'll will bet far more people have wished far more strongly far more often to be able to communicate with another person when they weren't able to than thinking how cool putting a human being on the moon would be.

Think of it this way - almost a billion people are on Facebook. How many people have walked on the moon? Twelve.

So, then FLG started thinking some more, and realized that what Stephenson desires, what he laments, is the failure of humanity to seek and demonstrate dominance and mastery of the physical world on a massive scale, which makes sense given that the talk was about Doing Big Things. But again, Big Things, while inspirational to some people, often aren't terribly relevant or meaningful to people's lived lives. Facebook, smart phones, and the Internet are orders of magnitude more relevant and meaningful.

To end somewhat abruptly, FLG has been mulling that over the last few days, and then this morning he saw this:
[P]overty has been reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous 500. One major reason is the abundance of information-and-communication technology. According to research done at the London School of Business, adding ten cell phones per hundred people raises GDP by .6 percent. To quote technology write Nicholas Sullivan on this matter: “extrapolating from UN figures on poverty reduction (1 percent GDP growth results in a 2 percent poverty reduction), that.0.6 percent growth would cut poverty by roughly 1.2 percent. Given 4 billion people in poverty, that means with every 10 new phones per 100 people, 48 million people graduate from poverty.”


The Ancient said...

Without necessarily disagreeing with you, I would just point out that in 10,000 years, the only name from the 20th century that's apt to be remembered is "Neil Armstrong."

(So, really, it's just a question of time horizons, isn't it?)

The Ancient said...


I had no idea there were apprenticeships for pirates.

(The admission process is appropriately rigorous.)

Withywindle said...

I was a stupid nurserymaid, on breakers always steering,
And I did not catch the word aright, through being hard of hearing;
Mistaking my instructions, which within my brain did gyrate,
I took and bound this promising boy apprentice to a pirate.
A sad mistake it was to make and doom him to a vile lot.
I bound him to a pirate -- you-- instead of to a pilot.

The Ancient said...

Anyone who wants to see the underlying study on cell phones and economic growth can find it here:

See: The Impact of Telecoms on Economic Growth in Developing Countries

P.S. I particularly liked Footnote 34: "However, we need to examine whether our sample can be expanded, and while we have tested for the endogeneity of the mobile phones penetration variable, we still need to examine some more subtle issues such as the potential endogeneity of some of the other regressors. We also need to test for the possibility that some third factor (such as institutional quality) that we have not captured influences both growth and the level of mobile penetration, thereby generating a spurious relationship between the two."

The Ancient said...

I can't tell whether that link is properly displaying, so here it is again:


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