We have come full circle.
During the industrial revolution, machinery and improvements to manufacturing processes pushed artisanal and bespoke crafted goods out of the mainstream consumer playground. The automobile heralded the end for buggy makers and the need for horse trainers for this antiquated form of equestrian transportation. Textile workers were replaced by mechanised looms.
In this new post-modern millennium, other industries are now threatened by technology that is being developed faster than you can say, “Wait,” while the demand for artisanal goods and bespoke services are, ironically, on the up, albeit only in hipster pockets.
What Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction in the 1940s is what some are calling tech disruption a generation later.
And while some laud the arrival of tech disruption, some are, frankly, downright nervous.
The most obvious examples of disruption would be digital retail stealing business from brick-and-mortar business, or publishing forced to find economical solutions to the advance of e-books and digital content.
Loading film into cameras? What’s that? (Is what anyone born after 1990 would ask in genuine puzzlement.)
A more recent instance of disruption is ride-sharing services that threaten to leave cabbies idling by the roadside like their rusting vehicles.
Despite some economists’ strident arguments that the rapid encroachment of all things mobile and digital will suffer an oncoming tidal wave of backlash from Luddites, the disruption, unlike the Thames, cannot be held back by building high barricades.
While those of us young enough to gape in awe at the driverless cars in Demolition Man (Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone, remember?) and in Minority Report, the fact is it may become a reality with Google’s driverless cars, currently being tested.
Journalists have to face the reality that computer software can now churn out sporting news articles and local news. Counter-bound human travel agents are facing extinction from a plethora of travel apps and mobile booking and payment systems. An air ticket the size of an envelope ten sheets long? What’s that?
Other professionals are not safe either, such as tax accountants whose jobs can be done with software like TurboTax, recruiters whose work is replicated by LinkedIn and Monster, translators and proof-readers who have been replaced by [we all know who.]
If we were to mention newspapers – considered so powerful and disruptive to feudal power as to be debated in 18th century Parliament and labelled the Fourth Estate – now suffering a decline so rapid and unforeseen by its digital upstart?
Well, that would just tip it from being a little smug to schadenfreude.
Still, there is never complete certainty. After all, Luddites, eco-warriors and those averse to conspicuous consumption, still have, ironically, some purchasing power.
Who knows if they may bring the next wave of economic disruption. Just as buying signals to the economy what you want, not buying also sends a signal. How many times have any of us read about a tech giant riding the wave of sudden growth only to just as quickly deflate?
Technology can only fulfill so much before humanity, like nature, consumes the consumer.