Think of the mineral iron oxide, suggests Romer. It's rust. More than 10,000 years ago our ancestors used iron oxide as a pigment to make art on cave walls. Now, by rearranging those same atoms into a precisely thin iron oxide film on plastic we get a floppy disk, which can hold a reproduction of the same cave paintings, and all the possible permutations of it wrought by Photoshop. We have amplified the possibilities a millionfold.
The power of combinatorial explosions--which is what you get with ideas and opportunities--means, says Romer, "There's essentially no scarcity to deal with." Because the more you use opportunities, the less scarce they get.
Everything we know about the structure of the network economy suggests that it will bolster this efflorescence of opportunities, for the following reasons:
- Every opportunity inhabits a connection. As we connect up more and more of the world into nodes on a network, we make available billions more components in the great combinatorial game. The number of possibilities explodes.
- Networks speed the transmission of opportunities seized and innovations created, which are disseminated to all parts of the network and the planet, inviting more opportunities to build upon them.
Technology is no panacea. It will never solve the ills or injustices of society. Technology can do only one thing for us--but it is an astonishing thing: Technology brings us an increase in opportunities.