One of the most exciting things living in this internet-powered age is how fast innovation has become. From Uber to Air BnB to YouTube, incredibly disruptive technologies are making more and more industries obsolete.
In order to drive a taxi in New York City, a driver must own a taxi medallion that signifie government permission to operate a taxi. With only a limited number of medallions being issued, prices topped one million dollars. Mortgages were taken out to pay for the privilege of being a taxi driver.
Nowadays, and basically anybody with a car and a clean record can be an Uber driver. Taxi drivers absolutely hate Uber. They riot in France and demand government protection of their industry, calling for Uber to be banned. Some cities in the U.S. still do not allow Uber to operate in favor of the established taxi companies.
As new technologies emerge, as new concepts and new methods of doing things emerge, the old way often gets left by the wayside – and never without protest. Some of the most laughably silly pictures to be found on the internet are people who make horse-drawn carts protesting against Henry Ford and the automobile. Afraid for their jobs, they try and hold back progress. The French economist Frederic Bastiat mocked this in “The Candlemakers’ Petiton,” a satirical essay in which the candlemaking industry petitions the government to essentially outlaw sunlight indoors as the sun was unfair competition when it came to lighting.
There’s no room for sentimentality when it comes to old and inefficient methods. A hundred years ago, telephone calls were completed with operators manually connecting lines together to connect callers and was eventually replaced with automated switchboards. Teams of file clerks were replaced by computers and machinery replaced pure manpower and animal muscle for doing heavy jobs.
The only thing that clinging to outdated means achieves is slowing down progress and eating up more resources. Minimum wage discussions aside, it was only a matter of time until fast food workers became replaced by robots and self-serve kiosks. Instead of embracing newer, faster, cheaper and safer methods of getting things done, people wring their hands and worry about those whose jobs have become obsolete.
There is no job or industry in existence so important that it needs to be preserved in favor of advancement and innovation and there is no industry that is immune to progress. When self-driving cars become ubiquitous, legions of Uber drivers will be out of a job. It’s up to businesses to understand that things progress and plan for sustainable ways of doing business. Even now, Uber is funding automated car projects and getting its foot in the door, anticipating how transportation will work in 30 or 40 years.
Yet at the same time we ruthlessly throw away devices left and right as soon as they don’t work as well as they used to or something better comes out. 3.4 million tons of electronic waste was disposed of in 2012 and the number only grows. If we treated our devices like we treat threatened industries, we’d all be on flip phones and dialup internet, refusing to use the newest and the best. Judging by the lines at the Apple store whenever a new iPhone comes out, there’s intense demand for the cutting edge.
The business world changes constantly for the benefit of all mankind. As revolutions in technology power things never before dreamed of, there will be growing pains. Some industries inevitably get left in the dust but it’s a fact of life. Those calling for government intervention against progress need to get over it and embrace progress.
While the calls for protectionism and regulation against competition make me cringe, I’m cautiously optimistic because there’s no stopping progress. Eventually the more efficient method of doing things wins out and becomes the new normal, it’s inescapable. The more people that realize this fact, the less time, money and energy will be wasted in misguided attempts to preserve the status quo.