Time for a pause?

One of the highlights of 2011 for me was the APA Content Summit 2011, which took place in London last November. As always it was a fascinating event (disclosure – I work as a consultant with the APA) that presented attendees with many interesting ideas to digest about the future of content and publishing, but one of the things that stayed with me the longest was a small part of Rory Sutherland’s opening keynote (paraphrased from the live blog):

‘We are [now] going to see a slowing of technological change. [We normally experience] moments of extraordinary progress followed by stasis. So the next five years, barring freak ideas, is a period of time for reflection.’

My first reaction was to reject this. I’ve come to believe that the current media and cultural revolution that we’re going through (and it surely is a revolution) is different from those previous expansive moments of history in two important respects (one an observation, the other an assumption):

  1. The pace of the change itself is increasing
  2. The condition of change is here to stay

In other words I have come to believe that this revolution will not be followed by stasis, but that we will now experience change as a constant, and at an ever increasing pace. My reasoning was that the collision of network effects, Moore’s Law and so on, make this revolution unique.

So my first intuition was to reject Rory’s remarks as a misunderstanding or a mistake, and lump it in with the many other ‘reactionary’ positions offered by those businesses that are being disrupted.

But once the idea took hold it wouldn’t let go. The possibility that my assumptions might be false came home to me. After all, who’s to say that everyone caught up in revolutions of the past didn’t feel the same way as I did, only to be proved wrong when the stasis arrived?

And then today, Robert Scoble, a highly respected commentator on new technologies, came out with this in a blog post about a pause in disruption:

‘OK, I’ve been talking with hundreds of geeks from around the world this year at three conferences, CES, DLD, and World Economic Forum. I’m seeing a trend that is worth talking about. What is it? We’re seeing the end of one of the most disruptive ages in human history. I believe that we’re seeing a pause in the disruption.’

And later:

‘So, it’s time to take a breather. This year we won’t see a wild new innovation spread like wildfire, but, rather, we’ll just see more people adopt the disruptions of the past eight years.’

Okay, so two people have said the disruption is over (albeit temporarily). This hardly constitutes proof of the position. But these are two people whose views I respect enormously, arriving at the same conclusion independently, from different backgrounds (media and technology). Could there be something in this?

Well I can’t deny that the ‘type’ of change we’re experiencing has changed. I would characterise this best as a shift from revolutionary to evolutionary change (which is perhaps just another way of saying what Scoble and Sutherland put forward). Again, this is hardly a scientific assessment, but a good example would be the iPhone app Path, which offers an example of the evolution of social media, emphasising personal (limited number of people), real-time (timeline), visual (photo-sharing) and mobile (it’s iPhone-only). It feels like the revolutionary technologies of the past few years have been mashed up into a new, more elegant form. Revolution to evolution.

So is this really the year we’ll see a pause in the disruption? Of course only time will tell, but I can’t help recalling that we’ve said this before: after the PC desktop revolution, the internet revolution, the Web 2.0 revolution and the mobile revolution, and each of those turned out to be just the launch pad for even greater change.