Jan 26 2011
Creative Destruction: Google, Apple, Facebook and the future of competition in the market for our minds…
I have recently been showing my AP and IB Econ classes the following New Yorker interview with Columbia Professor Tim Wu, the man who coined the phrase “net neutrality”. Wu shares his views on the “cycles” of competition in the communications industry, from radio, telephone and television in the 20th century to the internet and the “mobile web” today.
I find it a useful video for starting discussions about the pros and cons of perfectly competitive markets (represented by the “chaotic” period of any new communications technology) and imperfectly, more monopolistic industries (represented by the period later in the cycle of any communications technology when market power becomes concentrated among a few large firms).
Watch the video and pause it along the way to discuss some of the questions below.
- Why are new communications industries often characterized by “chaos” in their early years? How did the internet industry reflect the perfectly competitive characteristics in its early days, or even 10 years ago?
- How are consumers affected as communications industries go from “chaos” to control under big companies like Apple and Google?
- How does the behavior of firms like Google and Apple demonstrate the concept of non-price competition?
- Would the technology industry be more efficient if it were more competitive?
- Can you envision a world in which all of our online activities are done through one company, i.e. the “Googlenet” or the “Facebooknet” instead of the “Internet”? Would that world be better or worse than what we have now? Why?
- How is the communications industry today similar to the telephone industry 30 years ago? How is it different?
- Tim Wu suggest that in the future there will be no internet. Discuss as a class what you envision as a possible successor to the internet.
- If you had a time machine and could travel back to 1970, how would you try to explain to someone on the stree how we communicate with one another in 2011. How would you have tried to explain the internet and smart phones? Do you think someone from 1970 would believe your descriptions of products like Skype, like Google, like a phone you could watch movies on, like video chat, like “Google goggles”, etc…?
- If someone from 40 years in the future arrived in 2011 and tried to explain to you how humans are communicating in 2050, do you think you would believe them?
- Economist Joseph Schumpeter referred to capitalism as a system driven by a system of “creative destruction”. How does the history of the communications industry demonstrate the concept of “creative destruction”?
Imperfect competition in the News: After watching the video and discussion the questions with your class, go to Welker’s Wikinomics Universe and follow the link to the “Econ News” tab. Browse the headlines from the various news feeds and look for articles that you think may be about non-price competition between firms in a monopolistically competitive or an oligopolistic market.
When you’ve found one good article, open your Diigo toolbar and add highlights to the lines in the article that you think demonstrate non-price competition between the firms described. Add one or two sticky notes using the Diigo toolbar, and when you’ve added your own thoughts, bookmark the article. Be sure to share it to your class’s group before bookmarking it so your classmates can view your highlights and sticky notes online.
If there is time left in class, log into your Diigo account and visit our class group. Read some of the highlights from your classmates’ articles and discuss with the people around you the various types of non-price competition described.