The term “digital divide” was popularized in the late 1990s and described a growing gap between those individuals with access to the internet and other information and communications technology, and those without. Since then, concerted effort has been made to provide physical access to close this gap.
Today, most households, workplaces and classroom computers are internet enabled. Data from 2015 showed that more than 80 percent of Idaho’s civilian population ages 3 and up used the internet, more than double the rate in 1998. Digital technology has evolved rapidly to incorporate a wide range of uses from emailing to blogging to online and blended learning in classrooms. Digital hardware and software are constantly in flux with the more recent shift to mobile devices and cloud storage.
Automation and how technology will change the way we work is an overarching theme in economic analysis today. Computing power has made workers more effective and efficient in a variety of industries, and in some settings human workers have been replaced altogether.
Manufacturing is a prime example. Products assembled by long lines of robotic equipment are a visible reminder of how technology has changed the way Americans work. Since 2000, American industrial output – defined as the total value of the country’s factories, mines and power plants – has grown by just over 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. In that same period, total employment – the number of working hours required to create that output – has shrunk by 29 percent. Technology has made American industry more efficient than ever, and factories are getting increasingly more production out of a shrinking workforce.