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Quora Answer : Capitalism: Why is technology (IT/CS) such a manic industry?

Jan 24, 2015

Because there's no friction due to material constraints.

Basically technology is largely about the ideas. And while some material infrastructure is necessary, it's a relatively small proportion of the work or value. So there's little capital cost (machinery, factories, raw materials) to get started. Relatively few people need to marshaled and co-ordinated in order to create it. And now we have the internet, shipping costs and times for the final product are infinitesimal.

Of course, this is mostly true of software, but the tendency is for software to "eat the world" ie. for us to find ways to trade other, more physical things, for software.

How do we manage this trick? Well, it turns out that previously we were often shipping a little bit of software inside a lot of physical stuff. Many machines were a combination of physical actuation and mechanical control system. The control systems have become software, allowing a single machine to be reconfigured to do the jobs of many.

Similarly, we used to send bits of information around in physical packages: as ink printed on paper bound into books, as notches carved into discs of vinyl, as rolls of celluloid. All of this physicality is now replaceable with bits pinging over wires.

Is there any other industry like this? Yes, surprisingly, there was an industry which foreshadowed much of today's tech. industry : pop music.

Jacques Attali has a great book (http://monoskop.org/images/6/67/AttaliJacquesNoiseThePoliticalEconomyof_Music.pdf) showing that music, being the most frictionless product, is often an early adopter of new "codes" of production. And his model, invented long before today's internet culture, still works today.

We can see that from the moment pop-music became a "thing" (basically when the transistor allowed teenagers to own their own radios and record players) there was an explosion of new genres of music, a fast turnover in fashions, millions of hopeful "startups" of a couple of guys in a garage (the studious guitar player and the extrovert lead-singer prefiguring the geek / salesman combo).

Young people with little experience of the world could become global sensations, phenomenally wealthy and widely admired role-models. Much as today's mega-CEOs.


Again, because their product was relatively immaterial and frictionless. Easily and cheaply made and distributed. Pop music from the late 50s to the early 90s WAS intensely manic.

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