Who Will Become Wealthy in the Information Age?

 

Article by: Michael Southon


As you know, we're now well and truly in the Information Age. It began about 10 years ago. In fact, many economists say it began in 1989, with the Fall of the Berlin Wall (and the start of the World Wide Web).

To understand who will become wealthy in the Information Age, first we need to understand how the Information Age differs from the Industrial Age (born about 1860, died about 1989).

In fact, let's get a complete overview and go back to the Agrarian Age.

In the Agrarian Age, society was basically divided into two classes: the landowners and the people who worked on the land (the serfs). If you were a serf, there wasn't much you could do about it: land-ownership passed down through families and you were stuck with the status you were born into.

When the Industrial Age arrived, everything changed: it was no longer agriculture that generated most of the wealth, but manufacturing. Suddenly, land was no longer the key to wealth. A factory occupied far less land than a sheep farm or a wheat farm.

With the Industrial Age came a new kind of wealthy person: the self-made businessman. Wealth no longer depended on land-ownership and the family you were born into. Business acumen and factories were creating a new class of wealthy person. But it still required enormous capital to build a factory and start a business.

Then came the World Wide Web (in about 1989) and globalization. Suddenly, everything changed again.

Factories (or real estate) were no longer necessary to run a business. Anyone with a website could start a business. The barriers to wealth that existed in the Agrarian Age and the Industrial Age were completely gone. People who could never have dreamed of owning their own business were making millions from their kitchen table.

Of course, the Information Revolution didn't begin in 1989.

It began in 1444 when Gutenberg invented the printing press in Mainz, Germany.

But the printing press (newspapers, magazines, paperbacks) belonged to the Industrial Age, not the Information Age.

The printing press is a 'one-to-many' technology. The Internet is a 'many-to-many' technology. And that was what changed in 1989.

The Industrial Age was about centralization and control. The Information Age is about de-centralization and no control. No government and no media magnate controls the Internet. This is the crucial thing to understand about the Information Age.

As we moved from the Agrarian Age through the Industrial Age to the Information Age, there's been a steady collapse of the barriers that kept one section of society wealthy and the other section poor.

In the Information Age, literally anyone can become wealthy.

So now that we have a clearer picture of how the Information Age differs from the Industrial Age, let's ask that question again: 'Who will become wealthy in the Information Age?':

(1) People Who are Self-Taught

To explain this better, let's go back to the Agrarian Age and the Industrial Age, and the Transmission of Skills.

In the Agrarian Age, skills were passed on from father to son. If you wanted to learn how to be a blacksmith you had to be a blacksmith's son. If you wanted to learn to be a stone-mason, you had to be the son of a stone-mason.

With the coming of the Industrial Age, all this changed. You could go to University and learn whatever skills you wanted. Knowledge was freely available.

But in the Information Age, the Transmission of Skills is changing once again.

The skills necessary to succeed in the Information Age are not being learnt from our parents (as in the Agrarian Age), nor are they being learnt in schools and colleges (as in the Industrial Age). Children are teaching their parents computer skills. And many of the entrepreneurs who start hi-tech Internet companies have never been to college.

The millionaires (and billionaires) of tomorrow probably won't have a college education. They will be high-school drop-outs, self-taught people.

(2) People with New Ideas.

Again, it's the people who are able to think outside of the existing structures who will become wealthy in the Information Age. Often, it's just a Simple Idea that launches people to success in the Information Age.

Take Sabhir Bhatia, for example - the man who invented Hotmail. Bhatia was a computer engineer working in Silicon Valley. He had no previous business experience, whatsoever.

But one day, while he was driving back from work, a friend called him on his cell phone and said that he had an idea: What about starting a free, web-based email service? Bhatia knew this was the idea he'd been waiting for. He told his friend to hang up immediately and ring him at home on a secure line.

Three years later he sold Hotmail to Microsoft for $400 million.

(3) Writers

The third group who will become wealthy in the Information Age are Writers.

In the Industrial Age, Writers depended on large publishing Houses to get published (remember that the printing press is an Industrial Age technology - it is centralized and controlled). And the Publishing Houses took the lion's share of the profits.

In the Information Age, Writers are doing their own publishing - and keeping most of the profits themselves. Indeed, Writers are flourishing on the Web - mainly through eBooks and Ezine Articles. But even if you don't write eBooks or Ezine Articles, if you own a website, you are a Writer.

Why?

Because the Internet is basically a written medium. It favors writers, people who are able to communicate effectively through the written word. Remember, it's not the graphics on your website that sell, it's the words you use.

In the Information Age, we're all Writers!



© 2001 by Michael Southon

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