Vox raises that question here: All this digital technology isn’t making us more productive – Vox, and it implies that because people are slacking off on the Internet. I think that is incorrect, and here’s why.
The chart that Vox piece has shows big producitivity gains from 1998-2003 and smaller gains after that.
From 1998-2003 was the peak adoption of the Internet by companies. In the early 1990s, companies started to adopt email. In the later 1990s companies started adopting the Web. To me it is not surprising that companies would become more productive and they shifted away from snail mail and faxes to email. And then companies shifted further and started offering services over the Web, I imagine they became much more productive.
Slacking off on the Internet has been a problem since the Web came along. I know, because I used to monitor web server traffic. I don’t think that is the issue.
I think it is more likely that companies grabbed the big productivity gains from the Internet at the beginning, and then those gains slowed down after.
So what about smartphones? Have they made people more productive? I think they have, but I also think that the gains in being able to access information remotely may have been overtaken by the sheer amount of information to deal with. Being able to deal with email remotely makes you productive. Having to deal with way more email than you ever had to in the 1990s because now everyone has it makes you unproductive.
Furthermore, many of the features on smartphones are aimed at personal use, not professional use. I think smartphones make us more productive personally, but less so professionall.y