Unveiling The Delusion Of Disruption


Balkinization on the techno-utopian cult of disruption:

Why is the term “disruption” so popular nowadays? Elite media features a parade of thinkers keen on “disrupting” old institutions. Talk of social contracts is passé in an America obsessed with technocapitalist visions of a prosperous future.

The yen for “disruption,” an empty term for empty minds in empty people, makes traditional obstacles like social contracts suspect or downright pernicious. This has led to an embrace of proceduralism by those true believers who want an app economy to be the engine of capitalism. And such people rule the world.

The view of society as an institution-free network of autonomous individuals practicing free exchange makes the social sciences, with the exception of economics, irrelevant. What’s left is engineering, neuroscience, an understanding of incentives (in the narrowly utilitarian sense): just right for those whose intellectual predispositions are to algorithms, design, and data structures.

Unfortunately, the “disruptions” pursued by Silicon Valley giants (and their well-heeled consultants) often have little to do with challenging the biggest power centers in society. And why would they? As Farrell notes,

[There is a] burgeoning relationship between technology companies and the U.S. government. Technology intellectuals like to think that a powerful technology sector can enhance personal freedom and constrain the excesses of government. Instead, we are now seeing how a powerful technology sector may enable government excesses. Without Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, surveillance would be far more difficult for the U.S. government.

Similarly, the tech leaders rely on Wall Street to convert their stock options into the cold, hard cash needed to buy other opportunities. No one’s going to disrupt their meal ticket.

The disruption talk seems focused on Schumpeterian creative destruction affecting everyone but giant platforms. As David Golumbia has put it, “Google and Facebook and Cisco and Verizon … get to make the rules, and (other) individuals, even via representative governance, [are told to] keep their hands off.”

If “large corporate employers” must serve as the Archimedean points of the disruptive system, they are going to stand above the fray as journalists, advertisers, patients, doctors, etc. compete to the “lowest cost/highest productivity” players in their fields. Corporations plan disruption that tends to weaken the very professionals, educators, and civil society institutions capable of shaking up the corrupt and oligarchic entities most in need of disruption.

4 Comments on "Unveiling The Delusion Of Disruption"

  1. Actually, it’s worse than that. The superwealthy class of which the technocapitalists are a subset are undermining the social structures and physical infrastructures which make it possible for them to accumulate wealth, and to have places where they can exchange it for things they need and the personal safety to enjoy their wealth.

    They are doing this not so much by their rhetoric as by tax avoidance and their move to offshore production and importing foreign tech labor and by other ways to reduce their contributions to social stability.

    The real budget sequester is within the bank accounts of the wealthy. Reflect on this when you hear about cutbacks in not only social spending, but science funding. You’d think a bunch of futurist minded people would have no trouble with paying for scientific research. You’d think a bunch of business-minded people would have serious trouble with the physical infrastructures that are required to do business breaking down. But bridges keep crumbling and they aren’t saying “we need more taxes to get them fixed”. It’s all about short-term profit, with no thought given to what’s needed to keep those revenue streams going a generation from now.

    Using apps to determine the direction of budgets doesn’t help that much if the revenue stream is low enough that it can’t pay to get stuff fixed no matter what decisions are made on how to allocate it.

    • Ted Heistman | Sep 17, 2013 at 10:35 am |

      I think eventually they want to live in fabulous floating cities orbiting the Earth.

  2. More bullshit from the monied classes foisted on the idiot masses.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Sep 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm |

    it’s a common mistake to assume
    that humans are somehow in control of technology & it’s disruptions
    when in fact
    humans are now ruled by technologies & their disruptions

    sent from my Android eyePhone

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