When Kodak went bankrupt back in 2012, the venerable film and photography company still had 18,000 employees. That same year, when Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, the photo- and video-sharing service had a grand total of 13 employees.
Technology continues to transform the world. We are living at a time when the economy and society — essentially all human endeavors — are changing more rapidly than at any point since the Industrial Revolution. For government, that creates enormous challenges as well as terrific possibilities. That's what Governing intends to cover as the publication moves into a new chapter.
For 32 years, Governing has provided its readers with news and analysis about state and local governments — how policy was made and how politics affected that; how lawmakers figured out how to pay for their plans and how administrators made it all happen.
We're changing our approach to reflect the times. Today, anything you can think of that government does — education, economic development, infrastructure and all the rest — is being affected by technological change. Going forward, our focus will be on how government responds to those changes — and why it's often slow to do so.
That doesn't mean that Governing is becoming a tech publication, or one that only the tech-talented will find interesting. There will be no quizzes asking you to define artificial intelligence or hyperautomation or actionable analytics. Instead, we'll keep you on top of current trends to see which ideas are gaining traction and which are having, or soon will have, real-world effects.
That doesn't mean that Governing will be in the prediction business. We'll cut through the buzzwords and the bull, so you know which developments are important and how they will affect both the decisions you make and how they're carried out. But we know that nothing dates faster than guesses about the future. No doubt you've noticed the absence of personal jet packs from your neighborhood. Yet we've already seen things no one would have predicted years ago: not practical flying cars, for instance, but self-driving tractors.
Multiply that single example by a thousand. Government officials have had a hard time keeping up with these changes. Elected officials and agency heads may be specialists in particular policy areas, but they've outsourced too much of their thinking about the changing nature of work and learning to people with "information" or "technology" in their titles.
Governing intends to change that.
It's well past time. It's already been a quarter-century since Web browsers started becoming common on computers. Smartphones are more than a decade old. For all that, too many policymakers still treat technology as a foreign country. It may have its own language and customs, but because tech affects everything we do, we can't just ignore it, or not think about the way it works, or the way it works on us.
No doubt, technology can be daunting. In many ways, it still feels like we're only at the start of a new age. We've all witnessed changes in how people shop, consume media and do their jobs, yet there's still a sense that, as massive as the changes have been already, they're only a preview of what's to come.
Already, technology has been an engine of economic inequality. During America's long manufacturing age, for example, supply chains stretched from Detroit out across several other states. The tech economy isn't so generous. Since the end of the recession a decade ago, roughly half of all new business activity has taken place in just 20 of the nation's more than 3,000 counties.
San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Boston and the other tech capitals may be thriving — although there is too much homelessness and economic despair even in those boomtowns — but much of the rest of the country feels detached from the global economy. That division shows up not only in the precipitous decline in business startups in much of the country, but in our politics as well.
People are fearful of change. As a result, Americans have a love-hate relationship with technology. Some people use it all the time, or at least all the time that they're awake. At work, no one longs for file cabinets or fax machines, or can even conceive of doing their jobs without computers. Much of the rest of our time is spent streaming or scrolling through social media.
The sheer ubiquity of technology in our lives makes people wonder whether you can have too much of a good thing. Hollywood is still making movies based on old plots about the need to stop some threatening new technology from spreading globally. Long hours spent playing videogames, shopping online, or checking and rechecking messages induce discussions of addiction.
The promise of constant, global connectivity has perversely contributed to an "epidemic" of loneliness, as diagnosed by no less an authority than the U.S. surgeon general. At times, it seems that the only real answer technology has to offer for social problems is surveillance. All that is before we arrive at the real fear of our age: that robots, or some form of smart machinery, will take over all of our jobs.
As with diets, there are enough varying predictions about the future to suit any taste. For all the warnings about robots performing human functions, there's evidence that the machines have a hard time with even simple tasks like picking up a glass, at least outside of controlled environments. Autonomous vehicles may be coming, but programming them for all the winding curves and the drivers cutting them off will take some time yet.
In the meantime, we know that technology has created enormous wealth, fueled productivity gains and made it possible for government to have a more precise, if still imperfect, handle on what constituents want and need.
The simple truth is that no summation of technological change will ever be entirely right, because change never stops molding the future. And for the most part, the future is being created here. Silicon Valley and our other centers of technological innovation have their international rivals, but the best, boldest thinking is happening in the United States. This country may no longer be the world's factory floor, but it still leads the way in research and development, thanks to its still-unmatched universities and pioneering companies. Instagram, which had some 30 million users when Facebook bought it, now adds more than 37 million every month.
Given the rapidity of change, government has been a laggard. In most places, governments are only slowly playing catch-up in using technology to carry out their own operations. That ongoing effort is ably chronicled by our sister publication, Government Technology.
The new Governing, on the other hand, is about how government responds to technology. Our mission will be to bring you the most important stories about how technology is changing the country and help you sort through the news about what government is doing, or trying to do, about it. It's a new journey for us, and we hope you'll join us on it.