The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Manufacturing, Transportation, and Retail Industries

The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Manufacturing, Transportation, and Retail Industries

The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Manufacturing, Transportation, and Retail Industries

The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Manufacturing, Transportation, and Retail Industries

Synopsis

In The Digital Hand, James W. Cortada combines detailed analysis with narrative history to provide a broad overview of computing's role in sixteen industries, accounting for nearly half of the U.S. economy. Beginning in 1950, when commercial applications of digital technology began to appear, Cortada examines the ways different industries adopted new technologies, as well as the ways their innovative applications influenced other industries and the U.S economy. Inaddition, to this account of computers' impact on industry, Cortada also demonstrates how industries themselves influenced the nature of digital technology. Managers, economists, and anyone interested in the history of modern business will appreciate this historical analysis of digital technology's many roles and itsfuture possibilities in a wide array of industries. A detailed picture of what the infrastructure of the Information Age really looks like and how we got there, The Digital Hand is a sweeping survey of how computers transformed the American economy.

Excerpt

I learnt to see that utility was the test and measure of all virtues.

—Jeremy Bentham, 1776

Many observers have called the slow growth of the American economy in 2002 and 2003 a “jobless recovery.” In other words, as the economy began expanding again, it did so without adding new jobs. Indeed, companies kept laying off people, or simply did not feel a need to hire in order to handle increased volumes of business. The single most frequently cited reason by reporters, economists, and government officials for why new jobs were not added was due to the investments made by companies in computing in the 1990s. These investments in automation reduced the amount of labor content of work, thereby increasing the capacity of existing people, factories, and firms to handle more business. Those remarking on the “jobless recovery” got it all wrong, however. Recovery was due not to investments made in computers in the 1990s but to investments made in computing and telecommunications over a much longer period of time—in fact, over more than a half century. This pattern of investment shows no end in sight, and thus remains one of the most important issues that we need to understand if we are to appreciate how both the U.S. and world economies are transforming, on the one hand and, on the other hand, how businesses and industries are doing so as well. This book begins to tell the story of how computing so profoundly influenced the economy of the United States.

Computers profoundly influenced the structure, activities, success, and failures of most industries. The historical record of the past half century illustrates clearly that this technology affected how industries emerged, operated, and changed. Case studies of the effects of computing on individual processes and companies have long offered dramatic evidence of the profound influence of this technology. But the same can be said of industries and also of the economies in which they resided. The purpose of this book is to describe how that influence occurred over time and still affects industries today. I will do so primarily by documenting how industries came to use computer technology over time.

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