General Purpose Technologies: A Survey, a Critique and Future Research Directions
Since Bresnahan and Trajitenberg’s original 1995 article on ‘General Purpose Technology (GPT): Engines of Growth’, the concept of GPT has slowly but steadily influenced the literature on business ICT (information and communication technology) adoption. In considering business ICT, within the framework of GPT allows to focus on the externalities in ICT adoption which poses challenges for policy and society as a whole. In the literature, these externality benefits of business ICT have rarely been examined. In this context, the article provides a survey of recently published empirical studies (from 2004 to 2013) citing the original article of Bresnahan and Trajenberg. In using the science citation index and citations derived from Google Scholar, we found 1090 articles fulfilling these criteria; from these articles just 57 studies provided some empirical estimation of the productivity impact of ICT. Our survey indicates if GPT refers to whole range of ICT, this might generate misleading results. In general, our results indicate a shift in the discussion on GPT focusing on business ICT. The literature demonstrates that - with the availability of better data - increasingly a better distinction between infrastructure technologies and applications should be used. While infrastructure technologies are uniformly adopted among small and large enterprises, the adoption of applications is a more complex phenomenon. Although some authors argue that there is a productivity impact of ICT, this impact is mediated by employment, wage and size variables. In particular, the adoption of business ICT within small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) has rarely been examined.
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