TECH TALK: The Years That Were: 1998

From a Wall Street Journal special report on Entertainment and Technology (March 19,1998):

If any industry would seem to have mastered technology, its entertainment. As anybody who goes to movies, listens to music or plays video games knows, the techies are constantly topping themselves, turning yesterdays gee-whiz into todays yawn.

But, when it comes to the economics of high-tech, the entertainment industry is still very much in the dark. Movie makers, for instance, havent yet figured out how to say no to special effects or how to make sure that plat and character dont get buried beneath an avalanche of special effects. TV networks and studios dont know what to do with digital studios. Recording companies are still trying to understand how to see the Web to sell CDs. And video game creators havent yet uncovered the secret of turning hit movies into hit games.

The reasons for all the confusion are many. Part of it is just the love of doing something just a little more spectacular, a little more glitzy. Part of it is that people are making bad decisions. And part of it is just the newness of it all.

Business Weeks August 31,1998 issue was on The 21st Century Economy, with a byline on the cover that said, Volatility is here tostay, but technology and globalization will spur robust growth. Its findings:

The 90s are no fluke. Despite Asias woes, all the ingredients are in place for a surge of innovation that could rival any in history. Over the next decade or so, the New Economy so far propelled only by information technology may turn out to be only the initial stage of a much broader flowering of technological, business and financial creativity that will sweep across the world.

Call it the 21st Century Economy an economy that, driven by technological progress, can grow at 3% pace for years to come. The innovation pipeline is fuller than it has been in decades. With the advent of the Internet, the information revolution seems to be spreading and accelerating rather than slowing down. Biotechnology is on the verge of having a major economic impact, and in labs, scientists are testing the frontiers of nanotechnology, with the goal of creating new devices than can transform entire industries.

To be sure, the path from the New Economy to the 21st Century Economy will likely be a bumpy one. Each innovative surge creates economic and social ills, from recession to stock-market crashes to widespread job losses and this one wont be different. But thats the price a nation must pay to achieve the benefits of dynamic change.

Added an editorial entitled The Innovative Society in the same issue: There is, however, a price to be paid.History shows that a high-productivity, fast-growth economy is prone to greater, not fewer shocks. Nations can rise and fall as they try to adapt to new technologies. It may be that Japans unexpected decline was the first example of a major industrial country unable to adapt to information-age technologies, turning instead to a a beggar-thy-neighbor policy of currency devaluation that helped trigger the collapse of Asian prosperity. And the ultimate success of European unification may well depend on Europes ability to integrate technology across its borders.

Tomorrow: 1999

The Years That Were T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.