Kirt's Cogitations™ #215
"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).
Seriously, though, 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
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.
Fast forward 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.
In 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.
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