Kevin Kelly takes a look at some farm houses under construction in remote areas of Yunnan province China:
They were not unusual; farmsteads this size were everywhere in rural China. Note the scale of these massive buildings. Each support post is cut from a single huge tree. The massive earth walls are three stories high and taper toward the top. They are homes for a single extended family built in the traditional Tibetan farmhouse style. They are larger than most middle-class American homes. The extensive wood carvings inside and outside will be painted in garish colors, like this family room shown in a finished home. This area of Yunnan is consider one of the poorer areas in China, and the standard of living of the inhabitants here would be classified as “poor.”
Part of the reason is that these homes have no running water, no grid electricity, and no toilets. They don’t even have outhouses.
But the farmers and their children who live in these homes all have cell phones, and they have accounts on the Chinese versions of Twitter and Facebook, and recharge via solar panels.
Robert Gordon asks, Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?, and answers, yes, because our current information revolution is obviously not as important as previous industrial revolutions:
With option A you are allowed to keep 2002 electronic technology, including your Windows 98 laptop accessing Amazon, and you can keep running water and indoor toilets; but you can’t use anything invented since 2002. Option B is that you get everything invented in the past decade right up to Facebook, Twitter, and the iPad, but you have to give up running water and indoor toilets. You have to haul the water into your dwelling and carry out the waste. Even at 3am on a rainy night, your only toilet option is a wet and perhaps muddy walk to the outhouse. Which option do you choose?
I have posed this imaginary choice to several audiences in speeches, and the usual reaction is a guffaw, a chuckle, because the preference for Option A is so obvious.
To the farmers in rural China, Option A is not obvious at all.