Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rage Against the Technology

Those who get high on the Kool-Aid of disruptive technologies are usually too stoned to realize that, if not properly managed, disruption can result in an eruption of violence. This is what happened when 2800 Parisian taxi drivers went on strike to protest against UberPop. As one can read in Hugo Leenhardt's report for ABC News, things got really ugly; and, as is usually the case in war, the ugliness infected both sides. So, while Uber cars were vandalized, it appears that one Uber driver decided to deal with a cabbie blocking his way by running over the guy. What makes things all the more depressing is that the French government had already declared UberPop to be illegal, banned due to unfair competitive practices. As a result Paris has discovered something that any American city with a plethora of bike riders aggressively competing with motorists on city streets has known all along: A practice is only illegal if legality is sustained through enforcement. Clearly, such enforcement did not not take place "with all deliberate speed" in Paris. This led to the usual problem with vigilante justice: offended parties taking the law into their own hands, usually with violent results.

It is unclear that there is a way out of this mess. The fact is that technology evangelists have managed to disrupt the world of governance while pursuing an agenda that seems to have involved disrupting the world of work. The primary consequence is that all of us are living in a world in which goods are more likely to be defective and services are less likely to be reliable. It is hard to imagine our arriving at a closer approximation to the apocalyptic world that E. M. Forster envisaged in "The Machine Stops." Unfortunately, one of the services that has been disrupted beyond recognition is education. Thus, while in Forster's world people just got more tolerant of an increasing number of flaws, we now seem to be creating a new generation too stupid to realize that those flaws even exist.

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