YOU DECIDE: Are you connected?
Three decades is but a blink of any eye in the history of the world, yet in this relatively short time our economy - and lives - have gone through a total makeover. Consider these comparisons:
In the 2000s:
Wow! Those are some big changes in just 30 years! Today we use more technology, are better educated, work mainly in the service sector, buy more foreign-made products and buy larger houses and more vehicles.
In short, we're more connected : technologically, globally and competitively. In fact, I think a good descriptor for the last 30 years is the Connected Age .
Technolog y forms the basis of this connection. It's literally as easy to communicate halfway around the world as it is with a next door neighbor. Distance is no longer a barrier to business interaction. Despite higher energy prices, communication and transportation costs are lower today than 30 years ago. The Internet makes information and knowledge only a click away.
As a result, there is more global interaction today. World trade has tripled since 1970. Stores all around the world are filled with merchandise made in other countries. There are more varieties and types of products for virtually everything, so "one size fits all" has been replaced by "what works best for you."
Technology and globalization have made the marketplace more competitive than ever before. Technology lets the little guy more effectively compete with the big guy. Sophisticated market analyses and inventory management techniques that previously only large companies could afford are now inexpensive and available to firms of any size.
Modern technology has also ended the reign of many local monopolies. Just ask the traditional phone companies. And globalization has put more companies in line to compete for the consumer's dollar. More effective competition has put downward pressure on inflation in the decades of the Connected Age.
Yet the economy of the Connected Age is not without its issues. Business is faster-paced, and products and jobs are quickly discarded when deemed unprofitable. A more competitive market puts greater focus on employees producing and carrying their own weight if they are to be kept. Knowledge and marketable skills are the lifeblood of the Connected Age, so workers without them fall further behind.
As North Carolina writer Thomas Wolfe noted, "You can't go home again." This perfectly fits the economy. The Connected Age, with both advantages and disadvantages, is here to stay. You decide if it's an improvement.
Dr. Mike Walden is a William Neal Reynolds Professor and extension