One key question for the United States in the 21st century is whether noncoastal towns and rural communities, including many communities of color, will be able to participate in the digital revolution. We know that almost all Americans are avid consumers of technology, but many lack the opportunity to do the creative work that fuels our digital economy.
At stake is the dignity of millions of people. Within the next 10 years, nearly 60 percent of jobs could have a third of their tasks automated by artificial intelligence. Many traditional industries are becoming digital. Recently, a senior hotel executive described his business to me as essentially a digital one, explaining that his profit margins were contingent on the effectiveness of his software architects. Today’s hospitality vendors, precision farmers and electricians spend significant time on digital work.
Economists keep telling those left out of our digital future to move to the tech hubs. Sometimes I wonder if they have ever been to places like Jefferson, Iowa, or Beckley, W.Va. If they visit, they will realize that many people there are not looking to move. They are proud of their small-town values and enjoy being close to family. They brag that their town doesn’t need many traffic lights. And they worry about a brain drain.
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