People working at laptops

The digital economy and the future of work

This is the first instalment in a series of four posts about The Future of Work. 

I want to talk about another world that I discovered when I started freelance writing, and that’s the digital economy.

As usual, Wikipedia defines the term by repeating what it is:

Digital economy refers to an economy that is based on digital computing technologies. The digital economy is also sometimes called the Internet Economy, the New Economy, or Web Economy.

The term was actually coined in 1995 by Don Tapscott in his best-seller The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence. So we’ve only had the digital economy for just over a decade – it’s brand new.

It is often conflated with e-commerce – the trade of goods online – think Amazon – but this is only a small part of the digital economy.

The digital economy has also changed a lot in the short time it has been around, with the rapid advancement of technology. Just compare a modern website to one from 1995, for example.

Normally, an economy is defined by its relationship to a location and a nation, so we have the British economy, US economy, Indian economy, etc. We also have the global economy, with the location as ‘the world’.

But what about the digital economy? What do we mean by this?

New definition of the digital economy

The digital economy is an economy that transcends borders and is defined only by the scope of the internet. It’s the trade of digital goods and services, and its participants are anyone who understands the system.

It’s what is operating when you hear about people making money from murky online businesses, or becoming blogging superstars. Though it’s not the same as being an Instagram ‘influencer’ or a YouTube superstar, because that’s only the celebrity version, or the hyper-realistic bubble. This is the extreme end of the spectrum, with the other end being internet scams that try to swindle you out of your money.

The digital economy is governed by supply and demand of the people who view the internet as their location.

For example, I am a professional blogger and the service I provide is writing blog posts (plus other related digital marketing services) to any company who I make a connection with, usually online. I have a minority of clients whom I met in real life in business groups, but the majority of my clients I’ve never met. Maybe half of them live and work in other countries, including the US and India.

To participate in the digital economy, you must develop some form of online persona, in the form of a blog, YouTube channel, or social media profile.

A new age of trade

Because of the internet, people from across the world are able to work together in a web-based bubble exchanging services and running businesses online. They have no shop fronts, queues of customers, or store rooms, but they have websites and mailing lists and social media accounts.

The digital economy is wealthy and growing, and it isn’t subject to the same market forces as other economies. It wasn’t at all impacted by Brexit, for example.

I braced myself for the fall-out after this catastrophic event in the UK, but it had absolutely no impact on my livelihood in the digital economy. This is because the digital economy isn’t based in any country and it can’t be held back by people’s fear of consequences, like being made redundant or lessening investment after Britain leaves the EU.

The fact that events like Brexit are examples of mass hysteria which have tangible economic effects is a subject for another blog post.

The future of work

Embracing the digital economy is like embracing steam power. This technology is slowly revolutionising our lives but many people haven’t cottoned on to this yet.

They’re still under the illusion that the commute, the 9-5 desk job, is their only option because they don’t believe they’re talented or well-connected enough to find anything else.

There’s an underground movement slowly growing which embraces the future of work as one limited only by whether you can get an internet connection.

‘Digital nomads’ are the pop cultural version of this, where plucky young millennials take their MacBooks to Thailand to run startups while reclining on the beach.

Girl standing on the beach with her back to the camera

Again, another extreme. While we will always have jobs requiring physical contact between people, and indeed some will vastly prefer these types of roles, previous office-based jobs are slowly becoming redundant.

I’m sure this evolution will bring with it new challenges, but it does offer new opportunities for those who may have been restricted in where they can work.

For example, people who can’t afford to live in London can work remotely from their chosen city, or others with childcare commitments who find the standard 9-5 job very difficult to maintain can chose their own hours.

And of course, there will be those upstart millennials, like me, who just wanted to work from their laptop and design their own job – freelance blogger and content writer.

If you liked this post, you can contact me to find out how we can work together. Or, if you have questions about becoming a freelance blogger, feel free to get in touch, at catherine@awaywithwords.co.

Find out more about how I became a freelance tech blogger on my writing blog. 

Image: Unsplash.com

About the author

Catherine Heath

I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. I have a thing for psychology, diversity, tech and startups. Learning to code.

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