Technology Change and Its Impact on Labor Markets: A Historical Perspective

22 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2018 Last revised: 22 Aug 2018

See all articles by Martha Garcia-Murillo

Martha Garcia-Murillo

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies

Ian MacInnes

Syracuse University

Date Written: August 15, 2018


The objective of this paper is to understand the interaction between technology, companies, and employment from a historical perspective to provide some insights as to how technology can affect employment conditions today. Recent economic and technological changes are having a substantial effect on companies. The increasing power of computing, the ubiquity of networks and the associated cost reductions of these systems are opening economic opportunities that were not previously possible. This, however, is not the first time we have seen similar changes. During the early periods of the information revolution, there was displacement and changing work conditions. Given past and current technological changes we aim to answer the following research questions: • How did technology affect companies and employment conditions in the early stages of the digital revolution? • What were the benefits and challenges that companies and workers faced when communications technologies were first being deployed? • What can we learn from these experiences and what are some policy implications of the observed changes? This paper takes advantage of three unique data sets, (1) 20th-century communications advertising from AT& T in the 1920s to PCs in the 1980s, (2) Reports about employment from the Federal Trade Commission, and (3) Supreme Court cases on labor conditions related to technology evolution. Because such changes are slow, we examine a long span of time, about a century. The advertisements help us identify the positive changes that were brought by technologies while the FTC and the Supreme Court cases are used to identify the problems that companies and labor encounter. While technology has had and will continue to have tremendous benefits and potential we, however, should not forget that some advances can be harmful to society and individuals. Through analysis of technology effects, we can begin to understand and prepare for a future that is experiencing similar changes.

Keywords: ICTs, employment, historical and institutional analysis, employment structure

JEL Classification: B15, J16, J21, J28, J38, J14, Z22

Suggested Citation

Garcia-Murillo, Martha A. and MacInnes, Ian, Technology Change and Its Impact on Labor Markets: A Historical Perspective (August 15, 2018). TPRC 46: The 46th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2018. Available at SSRN:

Martha A. Garcia-Murillo (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - School of Information Studies ( email )

220 Hinds Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States
(315) 443-1829 (Phone)
(315) 443-5806 (Fax)

Ian MacInnes

Syracuse University ( email )

900 S. Crouse Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2130
United States

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