Disruption is everywhere and it appears we crave it

Dying business models, political party fragmentation, climate change refugees, country shopping: welcome to the new age of disruption

VANCOUVER, B.C. April 17, 2016/ Troy Media/ – Maybe a year ago, I started to notice the prevalence of the word disruption in the business media.

It started occurring in the context of jobs that were rendered obsolete by the internet and the growing dominance of apps for everything.

Increasingly, we read of a disruptive economy. Think about how many brick and mortar bookstores you go to now, or travel agents, or non-Uber cabs, or how often you read a print newspaper or magazine, or how many executives have secretaries or receptionists, or how Airbnb is replacing hotels when you travel. Disruption is all around us.

Internet disruption has made us all multi-taskers in jobs we never trained for. For instance, I recently had to book tickets online to a board meeting in Newfoundland. I assumed all flights went to St. John’s, so I booked accordingly. Then I found out that the meeting was actually much closer to Deer Lake Municipal Airport, eight hours by car from St. John’s. Air Canada actually flies there direct, and is offering bargain fares to Deer Lake from Vancouver. So much for booking airline tickets according to my grade school knowledge of Newfoundland.

But it’s not just the internet revolution that is disruptive. So is climate change. It is now becoming apparent that the political, social and economic chaos in much of Iraq and Syria is underpinned by a decade of water shortages and crop failures, which have displaced thousands of families from country villages into capital cities and regional centres like Damascus and Aleppo.

There are many chronically unemployed young men, the long-standing fodder of demagogues and human warfare, who have found new purpose in Daesh. This has arguably created the largest wave of human suffering and consequent regional out-migration since the Second World War. Europe is being disrupted as a consequence.

New wealth is also becoming disruptive. The New York Times April 12 report on Vancouver’s fuerdai (trust-fund kids) phenomenon notes that between 2005 and 2012 at least 37,000 Chinese millionaires took advantage of the now defunct federal immigrant investor program to become permanent residents of Vancouver.

The new Chinese millionaires were reportedly looking to park their cash in a country noted for the rule of law and good universities, and certain corrupt officials were looking to escape Communist Party scrutiny. China’s economic shift is spawning disruption in the Vancouver real estate market, as the fuerdai’s parents bid up prices beyond the capacity of the local middle class to buy or rent.

As if the disruptive impacts of the internet, climate change induced migration, and wealth-induced migration are not enough, consider the emerging disruption of our mainstream political parties.

Last weekend, the federal NDP split east and west on the issue of pipelines for carrying Alberta bitumen to tidewater. National commentators are now raising the prospect of the NDP subsuming into the Green Party and the new Liberals. To the south, Donald Trump is single-handedly disrupting the Republican Party in the popular uprising of the threatened white hoi polloi against most ethnic minorities; political, economic and university elites; and anyone else who disagrees with their myopic world view. At the same time, Bernie Sanders is championing socialism within the Democratic Party, and doing so with great waves of Millennial support. In the Eurozone, Angela Merkel is fighting for her political life against right wing anti-immigration zealots.

Faith systems everywhere are also being disrupted with the revival of ancient divisions between Sunnis and Shiites, Caliphs and Imams. Pope Francis is conducting a sweeping campaign for modernity in the Catholic Church. China’s Communist Party has un-deified Chairman Mao, and embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of the People. Even President Vladimir Putin, child of the godless Soviet era, has affirmed his faith in Russian Orthodox Christianity.

Where next will disruption strike? It might be worth noting that all of the examples cited are human creations. It is as if humanity armed with the internet has chosen disruption. We seem alone as the earth’s only deliberately disruptive species. Are we becoming apocalyptic?

Troy Media columnist Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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