Who disrupts the disruptors?

One night in the late 1970’s I was watching black and white television with my father while he did the ironing. We saw a news story about a bank in Canada trialing a new machine to dispense money in place of a bank clerk.  

It was called an “Automatic Teller Machine.” We watched with awe. My father put down the iron for a moment to see the ATM in action and said, “nah, it will never work.”

So here we are about three and a half decades down the track of the digital revolution and what we have we got to show for it?

My 15 year old son, who studies biology, tells me the number one mission of any species is to ensure its own survival.  Judged by this standard, all is not well in this digi-real world of ours.

For each of the past four Fridays in a row, something earth-shattering has happened.  In late June it was Brexit, a week later Dallas, then Nice.

We went out to dinner with the images of the Dallas police with their pistols raised, gathering and dispersing on an endless CNN loop.

The next week it became personal, my niece was all over the internet, reliving her ordeal in the Nice terror attack. Her boyfriend was run over and shot and her friend’s face lacerated. Bridget survived unscathed, but went viral, with her Aussie feel good tale about her "tough cookie" who survived being hit by the truck (they are pictured above in hospital after surviving the attack).

The following week something terrible in Munich happened too, but it’s all starting to blend into one. We’ve all learned to scan the media constantly for the next incident involving a man, mobile and machine gun.

This kind of violence and disarray was foretold in Yeat’s poem The Second Coming. Written after the first world war, it posits that “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold,” and imagines a “rough beast, slouching towards Bethlehem,” a monster of unfathomable terror heading towards our midst. That’s how the times feel.

The revolution was supposed to give us crisper bank notes, not a 20 tonne lorry in the back.

According to McKinsey, who seem to have an answer for everything except world peace, the pace of change from the digital revolution is happening 10 times faster and at 300 times the scale of the industrial revolution – this means 3000 times the impact.[1]  Call home Alvin Toffler.

It all reminds me of that pivotal scene in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, when Tess is stuck in the wheat field, and the pace and rhythm of her life is set by the chugging of the machine, and now we all face life at light speed every day.

Our office hosted a meeting of accountants and PR people this week. Both disciplines were arguing over which discipline has been disrupted the most.  

Accountants are being outsourced to machines and we in PR have much fewer senior journalists to pitch our stories to, though other opportunities abound. 

Just down the corridor from our office there are three Korean entrepreneurs who bought the rights to 23 channels of Korean language content and they're piping it to thousands of Auckland based subscribers. No TV station required.  

The management boffins gave this a name a few years ago – disintermediation.

It was supposed to take out the ‘middle man’ not the whole middle class.

But don't worry, according to the Buddhists, today's disruptors will be tomorrow's dog tucker.

These days I sometimes have to talk my 15 year down off the cliff about the stuff we see on our screens.  

When the news says, "robots will do the jobs of lawyers" – I am careful not to say, “nah, it will never work.” Just secretly, though, I still count my cash at the ATM.

[1] McKinsey Global Institute, No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Forces Breaking All the Trends