Earlier in the week I was chatting with a career truck driver. We were discussing how the trucking industry has changed. And we got onto the topic of how technology in the trucks now was so far advanced compared to what was in the rigs we both drove when we were younger. Autoshift transmissions and computer engine controls weren’t even conceivable back then. Now, they’re commonplace.
Not knowing what I did for a living, that driver began explaining to me that while those truck advancements were pretty impressive, what’s going on with farm machinery makes them look almost primitive. Did I know, he asked, that some farm machines were able to operate virtually on their own? Tractor drivers don’t even steer them anymore, he said.
His assertion that ag equipment is far advanced in the technology field isn’t news to any producer these days. Agriculture is, of course, one of the leading sectors when it comes to the use of technology. But have you ever wondered what the actual value of all the available digital technology we now take for granted is?
Certainly ag equipment brands endeavour to convince buyers (and therefore producers) that the high-tech digital features built into their machines add real value to a farm’s bottom line. But there is a pretty broad range of other digital technologies available today to everyone, not just farmers. An interesting CNBC article this week reported that the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve publicly questioned how all this digital tech is almost invisibly driving the world’s economy forward, because most of it is free. “Would you give up Google for $17,000 a year?”, asked the article’s headline.
It’s an interesting question. How much value does having access to something like Google provide the average Joe (or Jane) with a smartphone? Online search engines are something we all now use virtually every day.
U.S. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell suggested those free online features may be driving the economy in ways that haven’t been considered before. And that could make predicting future growth or downturns much more difficult than in the past.
Citing data from a prominent MIT economist and pioneer researcher in this field, the article did put some cash value figures on how much each of us benefits from having access to online features.
The use of online search engines, like Google, adds U.S.$17,530 in value per person each year it asserted. Giving up Facebook would mean a user would loose U.S.$48 in value per month. YouTube provides services worth U.S.$1,173 per year to users.
The MIT economist conducted background research on his value figures in Europe as well, not just in North America. Snapchat was valued at 2.17 Euros per month to students there, he found. WhatsApp provided significantly more value at 536 Euros.
The conclusion is that the online economy, especially those platforms providing free services are quietly growing in importance to people everywhere. And they are having a measurable impact on the world economy that economists can no longer ignore.
One online service, though, didn’t impress that MIT researcher. He found absolutely no value when it came to Donald Trumps favourite soapbox, Twitter. I guess even in some parts of the 21st century online economy, and especially in the “Twitterverse”, one old adage still holds true: sometimes you only get what you pay for.