The Myth of Disruptive Technologies

I keep posting about emerging new technologies.  In fact, that’s kinda the point of this site.  I’ll lay out a massive disclaimer, though: reality is not so easily swayed by writers, or even engineers.

Simple observations:

-The Internet has not killed television, which did not kill radio, which did not kill newspapers.

-MP3s are doing well (both free and paid), yet CDs still sell, and vinyl numbers have actually increased.

-Not only do I see plenty of people on motorcycles and bicycles (which both predate cars), but I know a few people who still own horses in the 21st century.

Yet, every so often you’ll see headlines billing some new innovation as “the _____ killer.”  In terms of market competition and business models, sure, one entrant can force another out of the field.  However, technologies which are legitimately new rarely kill their market competition.  Instead, they carve a new niche for themselves.  Two or more niches not only coexist, but hey, I’ve used a bit of a tautology.

Common example: sodas did not kill milk, juices and ades, beer, wine, and liquor, etc.  Instead, the introduction of Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, etc. in the 19th century created the soda market that didn’t really exist.  Sure, we complain that kids are drinking too much soda and too little milk.  But really, store shelves are full of milk as we speak.  What sodas really impacted was lemonade, iced teas, etc.  Conversely, Coke was only pitched by its company as a refreshing beverage years after its founding.  That drink, as well as Dr. Pepper, were originally sold as a medicinal, but wasn’t particularly successful.  “Real” treatments did to Coke what Coke then did to lemonade: not kill it, but squeeze its market to the side.

In the near term, technology moves forward linearly, with a clear older/newer spectrum.  But in the medium term, most new technologies are more lateral jumps.  This is why most futurists are accurate in the near term, but inaccurate in the long term.

I’ll go on in later posts:

-The new crop of mirrorless/CSC/ILC cameras will not kill SLRs.  You’ll still see SLRs on stadium sidelines, in front of wildlife pros, etc.  But you’ll also see fewer SLRs and more mirrorless in the rest of the photo world.

-Electrics will not force gas stations from the map, and I don’t mean electric stations either.  Land surface EVs will, in time, dominate certain markets: offroading, scooters and e-assist bikes, and a number of commercial applications.  But some form of chemical, combustible fuel will survive for decades, even if it’s in the form of hybrids.

-Cheapening solar power will not sweep away all, most, or even some competing power sources.  Even if  breakthroughs in cell physics and manufacturing happened tomorrow, electricity works in an “ecosystem” that doesn’t respawn like a video game character type, or even a video game expansion pack.

. . .

Sorry to burst your bubble.  But I, personally, feel challenged by this future, not discouraged.  The lack of silver bullets then means marksmen are still in demand.  Our failure to bring flying cars to market simply means I go to Amazon, not a mall zone.  Heck, I’ve wondered whether horse-riding ability is a useful skill I should pick up, just to be thorough.


8 thoughts on “The Myth of Disruptive Technologies

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