"Disruptive" is the early 21st
century buzzword. Merely placing the adjective in the vicinity of any noun or phrase
elevates the topic to a level reserved for only the most outside-of-the-box, ground-breaking,
awe-inspiring events. Any technology described as disruptive, that is to say, as
a "disruptive technology," is certain to cause a hush to fall across the room where
it is introduced. Captains of industry are humbled at the announcement. Kings kneel
in the presence of said disruptiveness. No amount of adulation, worship, exaltation
and praise is sufficient to acknowledge its progenitor(s).
although the term "disruptive technology" is grossly overused, it is an accurate
description of a technology that represents a concept so unique that it literally
changes the direction of an industry. Consider these examples in history. The invention
of fire* was probably
the first disruptive technology, since it opened up a whole new career opportunity
for prehistoric cookware vendors and chefs. No self-respecting cave man would continue
to eat raw meat once fire was available. Next came the wheel: How disruptive was
that? (as they'd say in New York). The newfound mobility that the wheel provided
meant that Og and his family could finally move from the crime-ridden inner city
caves to more spacious caves in the suburbs; the increased commute time was a small
price to pay for the safety of his family. Mankind became abundantly fruitful and
multiplied abundantly from thence forward.
The advent of iron tools surely
put the stone-based manufacturers of arrows, axes, and shovels out of business within
a millennium of their introduction. Bone sewing needle vendors surely suffered a
similar demise. Only the ancient scrimshaw carvers and voodoo doctors survived the
disruptive event that was the discovery of iron. Gutenberg surely created disruptive
technology with the invention of his printing press. Scriveners and scribes worldwide
were left wandering the streets with shopping carts and sleeping under bridges after
Johann came on the scene. Victims of progress have littered the landscape since
time immemorial, but we must push forward. It is our destiny.
now to the 20th century. Einstein thrust the world of Newtonian physics into figurative
black hole with his theory of relativity. That disruptive technology was truly a
quantum leap (although oddly Albert staunchly rejected quantum theory - oh, pun
intended). When Edwin Who among us would argue that when Edwin Armstrong invented
the FM radio in 1933, that the world of portable audio would explode in popularity?
Apple can only hope that the iPod will achieve similar results. The Sony Walkman
pales in comparison to the invention of FM. And, whoa, not even the most ardent
of technology haters cannot deny the reality of disruptiveness of Algore's most
famous invention: the Internet! Fax machines and postmen will never recover from
that colossal blow to their near monopoly on information transmittal.
1899, then-commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents Charles H. Duell uttered the
words, "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Surely he had no concept
of disruptive technology, or at least sincerely believed that no more disruptions
would occur on his watch. Come to think of it, wasn't he basically declaring that
he and his office were no longer required? That alone brings his qualification into
question, but I digress.
* A misnomer, really, since fire was already a known phenomenon. It's
akin to Benjamin Franklin purportedly "inventing" electricity.
Posted May 11, 2021