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Goodbye 'information economy'; hello 'hacker economy'

Posting in Technology

By now, the term "information economy" has been beaten to death. Now, we may be moving into a new realm one observer calls the "hacker economy."

That's the word from Greg Satell, who suggests that we're evolving beyond the information economy, into something more participative, driven by individuals from the ground up.

One of the most often-stated paradigm shifts associated with the information economy was that data is what holds value, and that society's wealth -- and everyone's work -- would be created by moving, storing and trading in this abstract commodity. Manufacturing was someone else's problem.

Perhaps people are rethinking the importance of physical goods production as an integrated part of the economic equation. Satell calls this the "hacker economy." Maybe not the best term, but here's how he describes it:

In the hacker economy, "brands become platforms rather than products.  An iPhone is valuable not so much for the hardware, but for the apps created by third parties and, increasingly, those third parties are small entities or individuals. The irony here is that the hacker economy is, in a very real sense, fostering a return to the craft economy. ... there is a large movement of people using open source technology to create their own products, although many are doing it for fun and enrichment rather than necessity."

New York Times columnist Tom Friedman coined the term "DIY economy" a couple years back, suggesting that its participants (us) create value by assembling and delivering products and services via online services and networks. Satell adds an additional wrinkle with the emerging maker trend, made possible by 3D printing.

In the process, he suggests, the creation of physical goods -- taken out of the equation in the information economy -- is back in play. "It is mass production, combined with knowledge and information, which has created such enormous wealth that we can choose our own possibilities."

"DIY" or "hacker" economy" may not be the best terms to describe what is coming: the tantalizing possibility that individuals may have greater and more rewarding roles to play than in past economic shifts -- without writing off an entire sector of the workforce.

(Photo: View from Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, by Joe McKendrick.)

— By on February 3, 2013, 1:09 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure