The reports are certainly rosy for the future of the Internet and our digital economy. Last week U.S. Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley released "The Emerging Digital Economy" report that credits the information technology industry as a major contributor to our present healthy economic state. "In the last five years, information technologies have been responsible for more than one-quarter of real economic growth", according to Secretary Daley.
The Secretary's sentiments were echoed by Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan who notes, "...our nation has been experiencing a higher growth rate of productivity in recent years. The dramatic improvements in computing power and communication and information technology appear to have been a major force behind this beneficial trend."
Information technology comprises 8% of the economy and is growing at more than double the rate of the overall economy. The industry employs 7.4 million people who earn approximately $46,000 annually. According to the report, this is 64% more than the "private sector average." It is expected that 1.3 million technology workers will be needed over the next 10 years to meet the demands of this growth industry.
It's certainly true that people around the globe are availing themselves of information technology, and especially Internet technology, at a pace that rivals light speed. Just six years ago, there were only fifty web sites scattered throughout the Internet. Today there are over a million sites and the number is growing at a rate of 65,000 per hour!
And people are actually buying through the Internet now. E-commerce, as it's called, accounts for purchases that include everything from books and equipment to automobiles. Automobiles? Auto-by-Tel ,recorded 345,000 purchase requests in 1996 representing $1.8 billion in sales!
Home and business users alike are purchasing goods and services through the Internet at savings over traditional sales venues. Businesses are able to cut overhead costs by offering their goods through the Internet, thereby passing the savings onto the consumer. Analysts predict that sales through the Internet will reach anywhere between $7-$115 billion by the year 2000.
Government agencies that disseminate information as a product are able to see cost-saving benefits as well by offering their goods through the Internet. As an example, the State of California Board of Corrections recently calculated a $3,000 saving in postage costs alone for one month's worth of forms and publications distributed via the Internet. The Employment Development Department is another agency that now offers online support and forms for quarterly payroll reports through its website http://www.cahwnet.gov, thereby reducing taxpayer costs.
For the complete text of "The Emerging Digital Economy" report, you can go directly to the U.S. Commerce Department website and print all 300 pages, including graphs and appendices. In the "olden days" it would take weeks to get such a report, costing both the consumer and the government time and money. Now the information is just a mouse-click away the same day it's released.
So what does all of this good news and hullabaloo mean to you? It means you'd better be on board the digital revolution train as it moves forward full steam into the twenty-first century. It's never too late because we are all part of this revolution that is happening hourly. Information technology is "work in progress", so it's not too late to make sure you learn to use a computer with online connectivity.
And you're certainly not too old! Seniors are one of the fastest growing segments of new Internet users who have both the time and determination to master the information challenge. My parents have even taken the online plunge. Having graduated from Solitaire with honors, my mother is now using the Internet regularly for electronic mail, information gathering and even a bit of e-commerce. Remember, this is a person who still doesn't know how to pump gas!
On a recent cruise, she discovered the ship was equipped with a computer lab, linked by satellite to the Internet. For three weeks we "conversed" as if they were next door. E-Mail from Malta arrived sometimes twice daily reminding me of chores and inquiring, of course, about the dog. The power of the Internet made the world seem suddenly so very small.
We live in a very exciting and prosperous time, thanks to information technology. It's definitely the wave of the future with unlimited possibilities, just so long as you're not just watching from the beach.