Why Digitization is Wonderful









In “The Digitization of Just About Everything,” Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee rant and rave – in the best way possible – about the interesting/cool/great things that digitization makes possible. They compare the way that digitization has led to far better means of determining travel routes (through apps such as Waze) to the traditional, solely satellite-based GPS method; they explain that digital information makes certain types of real-world predictions (diseases, housing markets, etc.) very possible.

Because of the way that digital information is so easily shared, accessed, created, reproduced, etc., there has been an exponential increase in the amount of information and data collected/stored/shared in the past decade (or more). The authors note two key economic properties of digital information: 1) such information is non-rival, meaning that one person accessing/using such information does not preclude another from using it (in the way that a person who bought a movie ticket for seat 2F precludes another from purchasing a ticket with that same seat), and 2) the marginal cost of production of information is basically zero.

The discussion I found the most interesting was the next one: that while sometimes the initial production of information is costly (while the subsequent reproductions of the information are still low of course), that in general there is actually consistently an increase in “free” information produced on the Internet. Just think of Wikipedia, creative blogs, various free research journals, etc., and it is easy to see that this is true in the real world. What is so interesting about this is that, having grown up in the digital age, I never thought of certain resources on the web as people giving their “services” for “free.” These resources seemed natural to me, and seemed less like the result of someone providing a service, and more like the simple result of what people should do: share their knowledge/skills/expertise, etc. I am glad that I think this way, because it suggests that other people do as well and the next generation will even more so; as we all believe we are somewhat obligated (even in an abstract, ideal way) to share our information with the world, everybody will be able benefit from access to knowledge.