Atoms are the new bits, The New Industrial Revolution & comparative advantage

Atoms are the new bits

is an important article in Wired by Chris Anderson about the democratization of production. It will frame the discussion about the business that Shapeways is in. To sum it up, “In the age of democratized industry, every garage is a potential micro-factory, every citizen a potential micro-entrepreneur.” An even shorter summation, “the long tail of things” is coming.

It is thought provoking and inspirational article and everyone should read it. In my opinion however it leaves out several crucial elements that will allow “atoms to become the new bits.” 

1. Atoms will become bits only if the right infrastructure evolves.

Small entrepreneurs have to be able to defend their IP. Markets will
have to be found. Customization and easy 3D modeling software will have
to be created. Services such as legal, customer service, accounting,
etc. will have to evolve. Customization tools will have to work.
Recommendation engines for people, things and products that do not
exist will have to be found, etc.

2. No amount of technology will replace the division of labor.

3. No amount of (available) innovation will eliminate comparative advantage.

4. Absolute advantage will not magically vanish overnight.

5. The invisible hand will still call the shots

6. Cooperation is not only a word on Sesame Street.

The most successful web publisher is not necessarily the best
coder, builder of websites, writer of web
frameworks, marketeer, authors, editor etc. Indeed even if he could do all of those things working with others would seem to be an efficient thing to do. The best designer in the world should probably spend more time designing than putting stuff in boxes. The best designer in the world might suck at marketing. The best designer in the world might be too expensive.

By working together and using the platforms available to us and using the skills of others in concert we will be able to achieve personal production. Networks of micro-businesses will define the future of commerce. 

The key factor for someone who has or wants their own micro-factory or who wants to be a micro-entrepreneur is to specialize. In the New Industrial Revolution the core question will still be, what is it that you can do better than others?    

Image Creative Commons, Attribution

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