Computer cross talk: Analogue dollars are digital pennies


Proliferation of technology in a country, without question, improves the quality of life of citizens. But does the patronage of the information age machinery contribute to the growth of GDP?

This is the question that chapter eight of the book ‘*The Second machine Age’* by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew Mcaffee tries to answer. The answers may annoy you but will certainly leave you scratching your head.

The osmosis of music from physical media to digital files that now reside on our computers squeezed the economic vitality off the music industry.


Sales of music on physical media declined from 800 million units in 2004 to less than 400 million in 2008 in the USA. During the same time total units of music sold grew; reflecting a burgeoning digital legal music downloads culture. Factor in songs that were shared and downloaded for free and the growth of digital music consumption becomes a phenomenon.

In today’s world, a child’s smartphone can house twenty million digital songs. An old junkie music fan would require an entire room stacked to the ceiling with LPs, tapes and CDs to achieve a mere fraction of that volume.

The consumption of music grew exponentially from 2004 to 2008 yet the combined revenue from sales of music dropped from $12.3 billion to $7.4 billion. In economic terms, music contributed 40% less to the national purse yet consumption of the same ballooned. Those statistics took into account sales of ringtones on mobile phones.


What changed? Analogue music *kwachas* became digital music *tambalas*.

Next time you hear our Malawian musicians complain that they are not being rewarded for their sweat; you should know that the shorthand for that is ‘digital pennies’ (digital music is much cheaper).

Enough of music things, lets dive into the ever-addictive social media. It is estimated that in 2008 alone, users of Facebook spent 200 million hours each day uploading, tagging and commenting on photos. This is ten times as many person hours were needed to build the entire Panama Canal.

Those Facebook users would confess that they found that intrinsically satisfying than the next use of their time; they produced entertainment for their friends, family and strangers.

If you add the man-hours spent on Facebook in Malawi per day; multiply the answer by thirty, that will give you hours spent per month. If you wish, burgeon that figure into annual person hours spent on Facebook, and behold; you will have enough to dig irrigation tunnels along the entire Shire River.

But that is beside the point; the problem with GDP is that it does not measure our well-being. That is why the chapter in that book prefixes Robert F. Kennedy’s quote, “The Gross National Product does not include the beauty of our poetry or the intelligence of our public debate. It neither measures our wit nor our courage neither or wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

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