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Communications of the ACM

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How Important Is IT?

How Important Is IT? illustrative photo

Credit: EtiAmmos

Throughout the 20th century, particularly after 1970, the technological revolution in semiconductors, digital communications, and consumer electronics resulted in dramatic changes to our everyday lives. We work, travel, consume, and communicate differently thanks to technological innovation. As a consequence, the role of information and communications technologies (ICTs) in the global economy is often the center of popular and academic attention—to the point that the word "technology" in common parlance has come to mean "information technology." But just how influential have ICTs become in affecting subsequent inventions compared to other technologies? This article examines the special role of ICTs in influencing technological development over the 20th century. The analysis is intended to highlight the role of ICTs in societal accumulation of technology, not only in terms of production and consumption.

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ICTs can be utilized as components and enablers in many different production activities. For this reason, they are thus seen as drivers of economic growth. At the national-economy level, ICTs have a strong influence on economic growth,8,14 and although there was some early debate as to whether ICT improves productivity,a it is now accepted among economists that at the firm level, ICTs significantly contribute to industrial productivity.4,7 Academic economists generally agree that such productivity benefits first appear in the ICT-producing industries and gradually spread to ICT-using industrial sectors.19


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