The Web Culture Explained by Adam Smith


It seems that the Internet is a new world where everything looks unique and original. The idea of the user experience and the social networks seem to have been developed by young people working for companies like Google, Facebook, 37signals and many others. But is it really true that all these concepts are new or are they insights from the economy theory applied throughout the years?

Well, let's see what Adam Smith wrote at the economic science inaugural piece, An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations from 1776:

For Adam Smith the individual has a natural propensity for accomplishing trades. However, to accomplish trades we have to produce an excess to sell it or permute it with other. But how is it that the society increases the production to create this excess?

For Smith the individual should be specialized in one step of the production and not accomplish the whole process alone.

“the certainty of being able to exchange all that surplus part of the produce of his own labour, which is over and above his own consumption, for such parts of the produce of other men's labour as he may have occasion for, encourages every man to apply himself to a particular occupation, and to cultivate and bring to perfection whatever talent or genius he may possess for that particular species of business.”

The Web Culture Explained by Adam Smith

So, can Adam Smith dialogue with the Internet?

Well, think at the specialization level that the Internet has reached, nowadays we have almost every imaginable kind of service avaible online. For example, if you are a photographer and need to create a portfolio you can use services such as Flickr, Behance, Deviantart, Carbonmade and others not only to create it but also to promote it. If you need to make money from your portfolio or work there is Shutterstock, iStockphoto and other marketplaces, Apple and its app store for the iPhone is a really good example. The only thing you have to worry about is creating a nice app, the rest (hosting and selling) will be done for you.

The Web Culture Explained by Adam Smith

All these services have as a main goal to allow the user to focus on his/her own potentials to be able to evolve and improve his/her own activity and productivity. Remember that:

“In civilised society he stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons.”

Smith alerted us around the 18th Century about the importance of trades and specialization on things we can contribute. Therefore, let's take his tip and contribute to the continuously human development!

About the Author

This article was written by Fabio Pesavento, PhD in Economic Science from Brazil and professor at ESPM.

Written by

Fabio Sasso

I'm a Brazilian product designer based in Oakland, California currently working for Google as a Staff Designer. I am also the founder of Abduzeedo, an award-winning digital publication about design and a personal project that has become the source of inspiration for millions of designers and enthusiasts.