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Disruptive – change for the better?

 The Midland Metro Tram line - disruptive?

Some technological changes disrupt what has gone before. My picture today is of the Midland Metro tram line, which is one of the latest ideas in travel. It looks very modern, but is really an old idea modernised; rather than disruptive.


The really disruptive technologies are things like steam railways, that replaced moving goods by canal and opened up travel to the masses. Today, we see some disruptive change as retailing is disrupted by online shopping. Traditional advertising is being disrupted by online advertising. Traditional newspaper adverts and billboards haven’t disappeared, but they are being challenged by more personalised advertising on the internet.

Newspapers and magazines are being challenged by websites too. Even this small website is the equivalent of the village magazine in Victorian times. Some of my articles are used by a more traditional newspaper, that has to innovate and look for new sources of content.

Photography was disrupted by the digital age too, with film cameras being made almost obsolete.  Even printing is beginning to look like it could be made obsolete as we all start using eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle and tablet computers that we can hold like a magazine.

Mass production disrupted many traditional industries. Cars used to be hand made and Henry Ford changed all that and started making them on an assembly line. What next for cars?  Maybe they will lose their engines in favour of electric motors? Maybe they will drive themselves and we will just sit in them as passengers?

Even clothing has developed because of disruptive technological change. The organic materials like wool and cotton started to be replaced by synthetic materials like nylon and polyester. The traditional materials haven’t disappeared altogether, but the change brought us cheaper and better clothes.

In the financial industry we have seen change, we can now pay for things with a plastic card rather than cash. Even the stock market changed with the so called ‘big bang’. Computer technology drove change and made the system so complicated, it seems the learned economists no longer understand it and can’t fix it when things go wrong.

Housing has changed in many countries, but the experiments in high rise living have failed in many cases. They were driven by monetary considerations rather than a desire for a better way of living.

Electronics has given us the biggest changes and communications have been transformed. We now have digital phones that are not only portable, but multifunctional allowing us to communicate over different mediums across the world. They give us access to the internet and social media. They allow us to become publishers, share our lives and conduct financial transactions at the push of a button.

What will be the next disruptive change to sweep away the traditional way of doing things in favour of something new? High speed trains? Beam me up Scotty style teleporting? Maybe a superfast delivery system for all those parcels our online shopping produces. That would work! A high speed underground delivery system for parcels and packages! You heard it here first. Delete the plans for HS2 – this is better!

What do you think will be the next disruptive technology? Wrist watches that replace your mobile phone? Please share your thoughts in the comments box. You can also subscribe or follow me on Twitter for updates.

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