Menu Close

Tag: disruption

This website was archived on July 20, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Exolymph creator Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

Very Virtuous Circumvention

Remember Erik Prince, the ex-Blackwater mercenary who seemed to be building a private army? He’s up to his usual hijinks, this time expanding in China:

Former associates of the 47-year-old Prince told BuzzFeed News that the controversial businessman envisions using the bases to train and deploy an army of Chinese retired soldiers who can protect Chinese corporate and government strategic interests around the world, without having to involve the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. […]

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group [which is Prince’s current company] provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.”

And to that I say ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because who knows what the hell is actually happening.

My previous impression was that Prince is a bumbling idiot. The BuzzFeed article doesn’t disabuse me of that notion. But! Apparently being a bumbling idiot is not much of an obstacle to paramilitary success. More likely, I’m underestimating his abilities.

Still, one of the parts of the ~dystopian future~ that I never would have anticipated is the way that people can hack their way to the top. This has probably always been true to varying degrees — think of the old pop-culture meme about women sleeping with their bosses to get promoted. It probably didn’t (and doesn’t) actually happen often, but to the extent that it did, those women were doing an end-run around the established decision-making structures.

Maybe I’m more of a Silicon Valley idealist than I realized, imagining a system based on meritocratic principles. But hey, you can even make the argument that people who figure out how to circumvent procedural checks and balances (not just the legal kind) are displaying a certain kind of merit. A certain kind of competency.

Is it the good kind?

Artwork by Icarus Hall.

A More Literal Disruption

“Automation did not upend the fundamental logic of the economy. But it did disproportionate harm to less-skilled workers.” — Daniel Akst

Earlier in the article, Akst explains, “technological advances have not reduced overall employment, though they have certainly cost many people their jobs. […] technology has reshaped the job market into something like an hourglass form, with more jobs in fields such as finance and food service and fewer in between.” In other words, the low and high ends of the market are thriving. The middle level of prosperity is fast becoming obsolete. (“Millennials” and “middle class” are two terms that don’t belong together.)

Here’s the “fundamental logic of the economy” that Akst references earlier: efficiency drives growth. When we figure out how to accomplish tasks using less time, materials, and money, then we can devote the extra resources to something else. We can better leverage comparative advantage. This “grows the pie”, as politicians like to say. New forms of human organization — such as the corporation — can produce greater efficiency, but they’re nothing compared to the advent of steam power or computing.

Machinery photographed by MATSUOKA Kohei.

Machinery photographed by MATSUOKA Kohei.

Technology is phenomenally valuable because it frees up time that was formerly occupied by drudgery. However, the transition from one mode of business assumptions to the next is always excruciating. Workers suited to the last paradigm struggle in the new one — observe the devastation of America’s Rust Belt. Or look further back, at the Industrial Revolution! Artisans lost their livelihoods and peasants were forced into tenement cities to serve as human fuel for factories.

After two centuries of industrialization, those of us in “First World” countries have a standard of living higher than a colonial-era villager could imagine. This hypothetical yeoman might predict abundant food and physical comfort, but he could never conceive of the mind-expanding access to information that is normal now. The idea of an on-demand, self-driving car powered not by magic but by math would blow multiple gaskets.

My point is that the Next Big Thing won’t necessarily be “disruptive” in Clay Christensen’s sense — it’ll be DISRUPTIVE like an earthquake that reorders the landscape.

© 2019 Exolymph. All rights reserved.

Theme by Anders Norén.